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Heads Up

J Street chief Jeremy Ben-Ami calls the plays for the first self-confident alternative Jewish establishment

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Jeremy Ben-Ami with J Street-endorsed members of Congress, September 2008. (Tom Williams/Roll Call/Getty Images)

The headquarters of J Street, the dovish Israel lobby, is all open floorplans and glass dividers, a far hipper aesthetic than most Washington outfits would usually tolerate. From the street, passersby can look up and see the group’s founder, Jeremy Ben-Ami, in his cramped corner box, tapping away at his ThinkPad under a framed, signed group portrait of Bill Clinton and his West Wing staff. In the bullpen outside Ben-Ami’s office, J Street’s junior staffers sit clustered around gray cubicles littered with stickers and maps of the Middle East—though, after next week’s midterms, they’ll be getting more space. In a year of record campaign spending, J Street has managed, despite a string of controversies, to out-raise other, better-established Israel-focused PACs like NorPAC and the Joint Action Committee for Political Affairs. (AIPAC, whose members give individually, and generously, to political candidates, is not itself a registered political action committee.)

In the two-and-a-half years since J Street launched, under the banner of “pro-Israel, pro-peace,” two competing narratives have emerged about the group. One is that by channeling the energy of the anti-war, anti-Bush Jewish left into the cause of Middle East peace, using grassroots organizing tactics borrowed from the playbook developed by MoveOn.org and put to good use by the Obama campaign, Ben-Ami and company have given voice to the inchoate frustration of many American Jews with the impasse between the Israelis and the Palestinians and their frustration with hawkish pro-Israel organizations, namely AIPAC, which was so famously expressed earlier this year in an essay by Peter Beinart of the New America Foundation. The opposing view is that J Street is a front for Democratic political operatives aligned with Obama, and potentially to his left on foreign policy, who hope to exploit the naive sympathies of liberal Jews for the political purpose of undermining the existing Washington consensus on Israel, thereby weakening AIPAC and other Jewish groups whose power depends in part on the perception that they speak on behalf of American Jewry.

Both versions are, to a greater or lesser degree, true. Last month, using an unredacted tax return that appeared on a public website, the Washington Times reported that J Street receives funding from the billionaire investor and social activist George Soros, a longtime critic of Israel, Zionism, and the American Jewish establishment. Though insiders had already assumed as much, the controversial revelation showed that Soros and his family gave J Street $245,000 in fiscal year 2008 as the first installment of a three-year, $750,000 commitment. Critics pounced on Ben-Ami, accusing him of repeatedly lying in interviews about Soros’ involvement, and intentionally obfuscating on the group’s website, which in a section titled “Myths and Facts about J Street” denies claims that Soros was a founder or “primary funder” of the group. “J Street’s Executive Director has stated many times that he would in fact be very pleased to have funding from Mr. Soros and the offer remains open to him to be a funder should he wish to support the effort,” the website said. In an update posted after the scandal erupted, the organization reiterated that Soros did not found J Street—though his senior Washington adviser, Morton Halperin, a senior State Department official in the Clinton Administration and a longtime critic of Israeli policy, was deeply involved in J Street’s inception and continues to serve as one of three members of the lobby’s executive committee.

Yet it remains the case that Ben-Ami has managed, in a remarkably short time, to build something unprecedented in the decades-long history of leftwing American Jewish activism: an organization with the capacity to raise millions of dollars to win political support for ideas about Israel and the peace process that are frequently at odds with the positions articulated by organs of the Jewish establishment. Whatever one thinks of J Street’s policies—which, among other things, include support for East Jerusalem becoming the capital of a future Palestinian state and firm opposition to new construction in the settlements until negotiations are complete—the group has succeeded in provoking a tremendous amount of debate about the political and emotional relationships of American Jews to Israel. “They have built up this thing, which is just this side of miraculous,” said Mark Pelavin, associate director of the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center.

Ben-Ami and the other progenitors of J Street stepped into the political vacuum left by the perennial inability of established leftwing groups—Americans for Peace Now, the Israel Policy Forum, Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, Ameinu, and a long list of long-defunct predecessors—to transcend policy disagreements, clashing egos, tiny budgets, and, according to many veteran activists, a general unwillingness to pick public fights with other Jewish groups. “I tried over the years to get the left to coalesce, and you’d be better off herding cats,” said Charney Bromberg, the former director of Meretz USA, the American branch of the leftwing movement also represented by an Israeli political party of the same name. “We were being totally outgunned by the right, and we consoled ourselves with the idea that we were in the right.” Now, Bromberg went on, “J Street has totally eclipsed the other organizations combined.”

The result is that Ben-Ami is now the de facto leader of the American Jewish left, and his counterparts at other organizations working on peace-related issues feel compelled to support him. “J Street has to succeed, and it has to grow,” said one member of the “peace camp” in Washington. “Now that it exists, we can’t afford to let it fail, because that would be seen as the failure of the left.”

***

J Street’s supporters are quick to point out that despite its meteoric rise, which was helped along by a generous 2009 profile in the New York Times Magazine, its budget is still just a fraction of the $60 million AIPAC attracted in the fiscal year 2008, the most recent for which documents are available—about $5 million this year across all operations, according to Ben-Ami, including a $500,000 grant from Jeff Skoll, a former eBay executive, who has partnered with Soros on recent initiatives in the Middle East. It’s harder for J Street to claim the role of scrappy David to AIPAC’s financial Goliath in light of Soros’ financial commitment, anchored by Halperin’s active role in the group. “He’s not in the office every day, poring over stuff,” Ben-Ami told me last week, in the last of a series of conversations this summer and fall, of his relationship with Halperin. “Basically we email, definitely every day.”

Indeed, according to Ben-Ami, the germ of the J Street idea sprouted in discussions with Halperin during the 2004 presidential election, when both men worked on Howard Dean’s campaign. “From day one I’d been talking to him,” Ben-Ami said. “He was almost the first person I talked to about this.” The vision that emerged from those conversations, and in other conversations with the marketing strategist David Fenton, the former Rolling Stone PR man and social activist for whose firm Ben-Ami worked after the campaign, bore obvious hallmarks of lessons learned from Dean’s run. The most important was the decision to abandon the humble fundraising attitudes of the left. “It’s a self-defeating world outlook that says, ‘We’re some poor minority backwater that will never raise money,’ ” Ben-Ami told me earlier this year. “We said, $10, $20, $30 million. You’ve got to have ambition.”

Ben-Ami set out asking for $1 million from initial donors—at around the same time that Benjamin Netanyahu was trolling the ranks of wealthy American Jews for contributions to his 2007 election campaign for the Likud leadership. Netanyahu’s target list, published last week by the Israeli paper Yedioth Ahronoth, included pillars of established Jewish groups like AIPAC and the Conference of Presidents: Sheldon Adelson, Haim Saban, Ronald Lauder, Ira Rennert, James Tisch, Leslie Wexner, and Mortimer Zuckerman. The hidden contributors revealed on J Street’s tax return show that Ben-Ami tapped instead into a parallel establishment with a great deal of influence both in Democratic politics and Jewish life. J Street received $25,000 from S. Daniel Abraham, the billionaire founder of Slim-Fast who is a longtime Clinton supporter and advocate for Middle East peace; $75,000 from Alan Sagner, a real-estate developer and former head of New York’s Port Authority whose daughter, Deborah, herself a progressive political activist, is on J Street’s board; and $25,000 from Robert Arnow, a major contributor to New York’s Federation who also helped found the Jewish Week. “I’ve been a radical all my life, somewhat, and I was imbued with the idea of another organization challenging the policies,” Arnow, now 86, explained in a phone interview. “I still have faith—I’ll give them a year or two and then we’ll see.”

J Street’s tax filing also included a $25,000 donation from Martin Bunzl, a Rutgers philosophy professor with long involvement in the political side of the peace movement, and $10,000 from Alan Solomont, a former Democratic National Committee finance chair who was a board member of the Israel Policy Forum during the Clinton years and is now the U.S. ambassador to Spain. There was also a $5,000 contribution from Hollywood heavyweights Phil Rosenthal, the producer of Everybody Loves Raymond, and his wife, Monica. And there was Elaine Attias, a feisty 86-year-old Democratic activist from Beverly Hills whose parents, Edward and Anna Mitchell, were such active and early donors to Israel that they became, according to the Los Angeles Times, the first Americans to have a square named in their honor in Jerusalem. “I’ve been involved with the Israeli situation for a long time,” Attias explained to me. “J Street was an opportunity to voice our concerns and express our support for the kind of Israel we want it to be.”

Continue reading: Breira, Clinton, and the J in J Street. Or view as a single page.
The last donor listed on the tax return was Consolacion Esdicul, a woman in Hong Kong with no obvious interest in the future of Israel or Palestine, who gave the lobby more than $800,000—half its $1.6 million revenue for that year. J Street explained that Esdicul was an associate of one of its supporters, a Pittsburgh medical-transcription entrepreneur named William Benter. (Benter did not immediately respond to phone and email messages left seeking comment.)

None of the donors was willing, at least in the first year, to give Ben-Ami as much as he was asking, but his decision to ask marked a turning point for veterans of the left, who remain scarred by bruising public battles that are now decades old. “We didn’t have, I think, a lot of self-confidence,” said Norman Rosenberg, who from 1990 until 2003 ran the New Israel Fund, which raises money in the United States to support civil society and social action programs in Israel. “We didn’t want to be victims of the mainstream community, and we tried to keep our heads down.”

That habit dated back to 1973, when the first Jewish peace organization, Breira, or “alternative,” was established by American Jewish radicals to provide a link between American Jews and the wave of peacenik politicians elected to Knesset after the Yom Kippur War. The group advocated talking to the PLO. Like J Street, Breira attracted support from “kosher” members of the community, including the feminist Betty Friedan, the intellectual giants I.F. Stone and Irving Howe, and Joachim Prinz, a major early leader of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, but it collapsed in 1977 under the weight of opposition from right-wing Jewish groups, who accused it of abetting terrorism. “It was a real burn for people,” Rosenberg said. “People used to say, ‘You don’t want to get Breira’d.’ That was really the watchword.”

***

Ben-Ami, by contrast, is looking for a fight. “There has been a gun-shy quality to the center-left on this,” he told me. “I think we obviously haven’t shied away.” Ben-Ami volunteered for Jimmy Carter’s presidential campaign as a teenager in New York, then went to college at Princeton. His father, Yitshaq, who died when Ben-Ami was 22, had bucked the Zionist establishment of his day to help Menachem Begin’s Irgun establish the state of Israel, but Ben-Ami wasn’t into Jewish activism: He went to law school at NYU, where he and John F. Kennedy Jr. successfully lobbied for better incentives for graduates going into public service, and then worked for the city of New York’s social-services bureaucracy. In 1992, he signed on with the Clinton campaign’s national staff in Little Rock. “I loved it—it’s like theater,” he told me. “There’s tight deadlines, you’re putting on a production, melding the visual with the substance, all of which serves me well in what I’m doing now.”

At the end of Clinton’s first term, Ben-Ami, then 35, decided to abandon his job in the White House as a deputy assistant to the president working on welfare and education reform to, as the Washington Post reported, “travel around the world—places like Tahiti, New Zealand and Southeast Asia.” Instead, he wound up in Israel, on an ulpan in Netanya, where he had family; he started a PR firm that, among other things, helped organize Israeli Arab voters in the 1999 election contest between Ehud Barak and Netanyahu, and did work for the New Israel Fund. (He later ran the fund’s New York office for a year before he joined the Dean campaign.)

After the election, Ben-Ami decided he needed to either “get citizenship and get a wife, or go home,” he told me. He ditched Israel and returned to New York, and city politics, to work on Mark Green’s 2001 mayoral campaign. (He also got married that year.) From New York, he kept an eye on what was happening in Israel in the aftermath of the collapse of the Camp David negotiations. “It was a huge thing for him,” recalled Richard Schrader, Green’s campaign manager, who was Ben-Ami’s boss. “We’d always grab an hour to work out together downstairs on the treadmills, lift some weights, and then we’d spend an hour or so talking over salads.”

When Ben-Ami convened the first, early meetings on J Street, it was envisioned as a possible merger of existing leftwing groups combined with a new political-action arm. The old hands representing the legacy organizations were ready to be convinced, especially after they succeeded, in the spring of 2006, in undercutting an AIPAC-backed bill that would have restricted funding to nonprofits working in the Palestinian territories in the aftermath of the Hamas takeover in Gaza. “There were a lot of people who were extremely grateful,” said Debra DeLee, the president of Americans for Peace Now. “We were all people who recognized a need, because for all the groups working on this issue, no one was organizing it along the lines of political money.”

The talks were abandoned in late 2006 after the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported that Soros was involved, setting the stage for Ben-Ami’s later decision to cover up Soros’ subsequent involvement with the group once it was founded. When J Street formally launched, in April 2008, it was as an independent organization that counted roughly half the board of Americans for Peace Now on its large, non-voting advisory committee, along with dozens of veterans of groups like the New Israel Fund and the Israel Policy Forum. The long list also included Democratic political operatives, including Gail Furman—another of the secret donors to J Street’s lobbying arm, with a $5,000 gift—who along with J Street board member Deborah Sagner was formerly on the board of the Democracy Alliance, a Soros-backed group that was instrumental in creating the progressive political networks that helped generate victories for left-of-center Democrats in 2006 and 2008.

The announcement of J Street attracted immediate excitement—though, from the very earliest days, the group seemed to obliterate the memory of its predecessors. “Why isn’t there a liberal pro-Israel lobby, one that promotes United States involvement in achieving a two-state solution?” Gershom Gorenberg wrote in the American Prospect. “As of today, the answer to that question is: There is such a lobby. It’s called J Street after the thoroughfare missing from the Washington grid—much as a liberal Israel lobby has been lacking from Washington.”

People quickly, however, pointed out the “J” in J Street could also stand for “Jeremy” —an argument made not least because of the decision to concentrate power with the executive, in the mold of powerful, established Jewish groups like Abraham Foxman’s Anti-Defamation League or Malcolm Hoenlein’s Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. “Organizations only do well if they have plausible megalomaniacs in charge, and Jeremy is one,” said Martin Bunzl, one of J Street’s financial backers. “If they’re not pathological, things turn out well, and Jeremy is not pathological.” Unlike many progressive groups, which cultivate large boards to attract donors, Ben-Ami’s board is small; in 2008, it was limited to Ben-Ami, Morton Halperin, Israeli venture capitalist Davidi Gilo, Democratic activist Deborah Sagner, and the Democratic pollster Jim Gerstein, whose firm regularly conducts J Street’s polls. (Gerstein has since been replaced by Josh Tenenbaum, a professor of cognitive science at MIT.) “We don’t process everything to death,” said Kathleen Peratis, a New York civil-rights attorney who is on the board of J Street’s related nonprofit education fund, “which means Jeremy and the staff get to move in a lean, mean manner, and the moments don’t pass by while the board is davening.”

***

It’s not clear how J Street’s tax returns wound up being released to the general public. People involved with the organization speculate, darkly, that in an election cycle awash in money from undisclosed sources, only an intentional leak from inside the IRS could explain why J Street was the only group apparently affected. “Why only J Street? Who in the IRS did that? Were they affiliated with our adversaries? I don’t know the answers,” said Victor A. Kovner, a prominent New York attorney and longtime board member of Americans for Peace Now who is co-chair of the finance committee for J Street’s PAC. “We didn’t announce who they were because they had an expectation of confidentiality.”

But the controversy over the Soros revelation, while driven by J Street’s regular critics on the right, gained traction among even its sympathizers because it hit a nerve that had nothing to do with political litmus tests. It was instead about the kind of group J Street’s supporters wanted to imagine they were building, which is to say, the antithesis of AIPAC, which many of the left view as overly secretive. “J Street has positioned itself so that it smells and feels OK to that constituency that does not have its sole Jewish identity through Israel politics,” said Bunzl. “It is an organization that smells and feels good to people who go to shul.”

Continue reading: Capitol Hill, Robert Wexler, and football diplomacy. Or view as a single page.
Ben-Ami’s flip soundbite to reporters about the revelation, which he repeated to me, was: “I’m not Gandhi and I’m not Rahm.” He went on to say that, since there was nothing illegal about taking money from Esdicul, the obscure woman in Hong Kong, let alone from Soros, he had no reason to apologize, not even to those of his supporters who were disappointed that he lied to them. “Should the left be the only people who make their donors reveal themselves?” Ben-Ami asked me, leaving only the briefest beat before he answered his own question. “I don’t see why we should go beyond the other team here.”

What may wind up hurting J Street even more, though, is the damage to its reputation as a savvy Washington player. As one longtime peace activist pointed out, one has to assume that everything will be leaked, whether it’s internal documents or confidential IRS filings, and Ben-Ami’s decision to explicitly publish misleading statements about Soros, however artful they may have seemed at the time, rather than just refusing to comment, amounted to an unforced political error. “To me the only problem was that we did seem to imply we didn’t have Soros money when we did,” said Peratis, the New York attorney, who told me she first learned about the contributions from the email Ben-Ami sent to his board before the Washington Times story broke. “That’s what troubled me, and Jeremy appropriately took responsibility for it.” But, she quickly added, “It wasn’t a huge mistake.” There was, however, an immediate cost: Louisiana Rep. Charles Boustany, a descendant of Lebanese-Christian immigrants and the group’s sole Republican endorsee, promptly removed himself from J Street’s list of supporters, according to Boustany’s spokesman Paul Coussan. “We were misled as to their affiliations,” Coussan said, by way of explanation, in an email to Tablet.

***

It may not be a coincidence that where J Street has had the most visible success so far isn’t on Capitol Hill, where AIPAC still reigns, but in its field operations around the country, where local chapters do things like host public events for Israelis like Yael Dayan, daughter of Gen. Moshe Dayan. Even people in deep agreement with J Street’s positions acknowledge that the general American consensus on Israel outside the Jewish community, let alone among major Jewish political donors from hawkish Democrats like Haim Saban to partisan Republicans like Sheldon Adelson, may simply be more comfortable with the positions and approach of AIPAC. Indeed, some J Street donors still send checks to AIPAC. “Obviously my sympathies are with J Street,” said Murray Galinson, chair of the Jewish Funders Network and a former member of AIPAC’s national board who has given to J Street’s PAC. “But we continue to contribute toward AIPAC, and I think they do good work.”

Episodes like the Soros flap only make it that much harder for J Street and its young lobbyists to achieve their original purpose of getting traction on the Hill; even with money to offer, it’s hard to avoid looking like a liability if you can’t quash attacks from the opposite side. As one experienced Washington lobbyist put it: “It doesn’t make them trayf, but it is one more thing to hold against them.”

In the Times Magazine profile of J Street, which appeared a year ago, after the souring of the Obama Administration’s relationship with Netanyahu and with many of its own American Jewish supporters, Ben-Ami famously said his “number one agenda item” was to “act as the president’s blocking back”—a claim backed by Ben-Ami’s ability to get himself invited, to the surprise of many, to a White House meeting with senior Jewish political leaders in July 2009.

In the 18 months since, however, that leading role has increasingly been played by former Florida Rep. Robert Wexler, who heads the Center for Middle East Peace—a small organization underwritten by Daniel Abraham, who revived it earlier this year, after his initial, quiet contribution to J Street. Since the 2008 campaign, Wexler has acted as Obama’s chief liaison to the Jewish community, and in the past few months he has hosted two dinners for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Jewish leaders—one earlier this summer in Washington, at which Ben-Ami was present, and one in New York during the United Nations’ General Assembly, to which Ben-Ami was not invited. A spokesman for Abraham’s center said it wasn’t a snub—the guest lists deliberately didn’t overlap—but the incident illustrated just how far the left, organized along ad hoc lines with no umbrella organizing capacity, is from matching the smooth interaction of major groups like AIPAC and the Conference of Presidents, which move in a synchronized and disciplined way through the interlocking circles of Jewish money and power in New York and Washington.

Translating the yearning for an influential dovish Jewish voice on Capitol Hill into reality remains elusive, and it will get even harder if Republicans, as expected, retake the House of Representatives and perhaps the Senate next week. J Street’s political-action arm has currently raised more than of $1.5 million to back 58 candidates for the House and three for the Senate—all Democrats, 16 likely to lose, according to prognosticator Nate Silver. “We have to solve this problem—I want J Street money to flow to Republicans, I want Republicans to support J Street policies,” Kovner told me. “They are there, but they are being directed not to take it.” (Boustany’s spokesman denied any party pressure in the decision to reject J Street’s endorsement.)

It isn’t clear what the consequence will be for other left-wing Jewish groups, which readily acknowledge that their success is tied to J Street’s fortunes. “We’ve seen a renaissance, and J Street is a mighty factor in that,” Daniel Sokatch, the new CEO of the New Israel Fund, told me—though he quickly distanced his group’s work, and target market, from Ben-Ami’s. “J Street and others can worry about the peace process, but we are worrying about the loyalty oath, the conversion bill,” Sokatch said. “That’s what NIF is focusing on.”

Debra DeLee, the head of Americans for Peace Now, similarly drew a distinction between the upside of J Street’s success at shifting the terms of the Washington conversation and the potential downside of its being increasingly associated with Democratic partisanship. “It’s been a very public statement about the breadth and size of those American Jews who support a two-state solution and the kinds of things that both J Steet and APN are talking about,” DeLee said. But, she added, “We have a different strategic approach.” APN has traditionally maintained its bipartisan access, both on the Hill and in the State Department, by emphasizing its role as a provider of high-quality information about the situation on the ground in the territories. DeLee said that whatever J Street’s fate, she will continue encouraging her supporters to direct their political money through J Street’s PAC. “That does not mean that only endorsed candidates should receive money,” she added. “But if they are supporting these candidates, then they should do it through this vehicle.”

For his part, Ben-Ami acknowledged that the goal line has moved from the original objective of winning a peace deal this year or next to building a durable movement. “We didn’t set J Street up simply to provide support to one president and one administration,” Ben-Ami told me. Asked if he was retracting his blocking-for-Obama vow, he paused. “As long as the quarterback is aiming the ball at the end zone, I’m really glad to be the blocking back,” Ben-Ami told me. “But if time runs out, or the quarterback decides to go home or run the wrong way, we’ll reassess. Maybe there comes a time when we have to get behind and start pushing.”

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J-Street is run by some rich, very sick, self-hating Jews, and is primarily funded by the anti-Jew Jew George Soros. Danny Abraham did contribute, which is unfortunate. I don’t think he drank the kool-aid, but rather naively believed their lies. J-Street hates Israel passionately and wishes only for its speedy demise, but has a devious strategy of camaflauging their self-hatred with a pretended “alternative” love for Israel. George Soros has admitted that he is against a Jewish state. Since its founding, J-Street has been able to fool the good-hearted and left-leaning JTA into covering their every pish. JTA mistakenly believes that it needs to grant “equal time” to this enemy of Israel.
J-Street is nothing more than a wannabe organization with evil intentions. They crave publicity or any kind. Every time JTA (and now Tablet) gives them ink, they use it for fund-raising. The best thing is to ignore them.
Know that by building them up into a perceived “alternative” to AIPAC you are giving succor the enemies of Israel.
Apparently, Ms. Hoffman shares that misbelief that every evil and foolish idea propounded by a Jew has to be placed on a pedestal and accorded the same weight as is given to the democratically elected leaders of Israel.

It’s a crying shame.

Tablet Mag is losing credibility by carrying water for this Soros-funded anti-Israeli front group. Shame.

Morris says:

the thing I cannot tolerate about this ben Ami person is the name dropping by him and people around him.

What a pathetic puff piece for the anti-Israel group Soros Street. But hey, its not surprising that Tablet would post an essay like this. Their editorial stance is to be cool toward Israel.

At least Soros Street is honest about one thing, they aren’t an Israel lobbying group. They are a group that supports Democrats (or in some cases Republicans) that want to put ‘daylight’ in the US/Israel relationship, since everyone who works or supports this group is ashamed of Jewish self-determination.

Thanks for this article, Allison, seems like a fair take to me.

I wonder whether a companion piece isn’t in order. Something exploring the raving mania that has seized hold of a substantial portion of the American Jewish “old guard” when it comes to J Street. Looks like you might be able to start with this comments section, although I’m sure those who disagree with J Street will find a way to do so respectfully and sensibly any minute now…

We don’t need enemys, from the out side when we have people like j-street pushing their agenda from the inside. These people are self-hateing Jews, who want nothing more than to see Isreal trampled in the dust of the muslims. How many more weirdos are we going to have trying to pull Isreal down. Perhaps j-street and soros are closet muslims.

batami says:

This article is an amazing puff piece, clearly part of J Street’s damage control efforts after the devastating revelations about J Street’s leadership and contributors. You make no effort to explain that Hong Kong donation of $811,697. There’s no mention of some of the very troubling donors to J Street’s PAC — people who are clearly NOT “pro-Israel” — people who are close to the Saudis, Iranians, Turks. Take a look at some of the names who contributed this month: http://blogs.jpost.com/content/j-street-has-no-shame

George says:

I was enthusiastic about Tablet as a new, important source of information about Jewish and Israeli affairs. But Tablet starts to reverse course and wander more and more to the left. I’m really unhappy about this trend and still hope for a change.

J Street is an organization who’s main, primary, and sole purpose is to eradicate Israel as it exists today and replace it with a secular democratic state of Palestine- a state that would surely and sorely turn against (to put it mildly)its Jewish citizens. J Streeters and its denizens would then be giving each other high-5′s- Benami and Soros in the lead. J street is an organization that lied and lied again to the public about its origins and its seed money and continues to lie about what their intent is.
And Tablet is there on the 50 yard line cheering them on… I have lost count how many laudatory articles and apologetic pieces they published in their support… with the exception of a tsk, tsk when their duplicity with Soros was uncovered.
May J Street soon be confined to the dung heaps of history where they naturally and justifiably belong. Their more natural bedfellow is the PFLP and George Habash, may both their memories be erased.

Eric Adams Abohav says:

Peace is not the enemy of Israel. War, contention and strife are. And I applaud J-Street for realizing that a negotiated solution is in Israel’s long-term interest.

J Stret should stop the talk of leaks and dark conspiracies. Every non-profits’ IRS Form 990 is available on the Internet and is a matter of public record.

Of course no one addressed all the Arab money that flows into J Street. What is going on with this magazine. Are you different or a mouth piece for the left. Can’t help yourselves.

This is an excellent, thoughtful article …thank you.

If I were to stoop to the level of most of the commentators here I would point out that they are in the main simply tools of the Kahane-inspired settler movement that has sworn to defeat any peace negotiations at any price.

The concerted campaign against J Street is testimony to the fact that it does now represent a substantial portion of the American Jewish community, American Jews who are tired of being told they only stance they can take is to support the settlers.

neighbour says:

We can judge J Street by the company it keeps and conclude that it’s not “pro-Israel.” I dare anyone to challenge these points and will be happy to provide citations: 1. Leaders of the Arab-American lobby contribute and strategize together with J Street at the White House. 2. Staffers for SENATOR Barack Obama attended the formation meeting of J Street (even before it had chosen the name). 3. Ben-Ami co-authored a HuffPost article with the head of the pro-Iranian lobby OPPOSING sanctions against Iran. 4. Saudi Arabia’s US lawyer and the former CIA station chief in Saudi Arabia contribute to J Street’s PAC. 5. The mysterious Hong Kong contributor of $800,000+ is an associate of a world class horse race bettor. This is pro-Israel? 5. Who loves J Street? Stephen Walt, the co-author of the anti-Semitic The Israel Lobby: “This is a key moment in the debate,” Walt told Mother Jones Magazine in Sept 2009. “It will be important whether Obama gets enough cover from J Street and the Israel Policy Forum so Obama can say, ‘AIPAC is not representative of the American Jewish community.’”

This comments section turned out to be even more instructive than I thought.

I mean, 10 years ago, say before the start of the second intifada, could you have imagined that an organization whose explicit policy goal is a negotiated two-state solution would be subject to this level of vitriol?

Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of reasonable ways to disagree with J Street’s goals or its methods. But the tenor of the disagreement – the feeling one gets when reading these comments – does seem really shocking to me. Is there anything that this crowd *won’t* say about J Street?

It goes without saying that this kind of talk is shameful. “Sinat chinam” comes to mind, in fact. But no exploration of J Street seems complete without a parallel exploration of the insanity it inspires in so many otherwise even-tempered people.

To Max:
EVen putting some of the vitriol on the side, there were many inciteful and rightful comments made in this forum about J Streets agenda, its supporters, and the source of financing. There is no getting around that.

Both J-Street and NIF have tacked harder left in the belief that is the sweet spot for funding. This may be a short-term win, but I do not believe it is a sustainable strategy.

The harder left they tack, the more Zionist center-left support they lose; which means they will became more and more dependent on the mid-to-far left. But, why would the mid-to-far left spend their dollars on J-Street and NIF when they can support their own organizations?

I think there is room and need for Zionist center-left organizations in the US (as NIF once was). Until then, the people complaining about the vociferous and emotional reaction of many, should remember the old adage “where there is smoke, there is fire”.

If J-Street and NIF choose to tack left, the Zionist center-left will not only stop supporting them, but will also blame them for polarizing the Jewish community. And, we are already seeing this begin…

Interesting how, on top of all the other charges, J Street is also blamed for causing polarization within the Jewish Community. And Tablet, is called names and taken to task for simply reporting on J Street. I would respectfully submit that our American Jewish community needs no help in becoming polarized. Has it ever not been so? Perhaps those who claim to represent the voice of a unified community feel threatened by any group whose very existence reveals the real diversity of opinion, background, class and relationship to Israel that’s found in the American Jewish community.

Corey, just to clarify my point is J-Street and the New-NIF are polarizing the Zionist Center-Left — not the broader demographic which has always been diverse. In my view, this is a slow form of suicide.

For one, I am disappointed there is no longer an organization that represents me, but I hardly feel threatened.

Why would people hate their own identity, the land that would potentially harbor them in the event of a socio-political crisis, and the work of those who have created so much out of nothing, to such an extent? Aren’t there enough groups that hate the idea of a Jewish homeland without additional destructive views spewed from groups identifying themselves as “Jews” as well?

Since much of the steam that drives this engine of self-hate seems to arise from college campuses, the best defense is providing our children with the educational tools needed to “just say no” when the are approached to join groups such a J-Street.

jacobo says:

J Stret is nothing but AIPAC light because if it really were interested in helping to end the Mideast conflict it would be supporting BDS, the global effort for justice in Palestine. Will this lead to Israel’s deligitimization? Real Jews (those of us who always side with the oppressed even (better, especially) when the oppressor claims to be a Jew) are supporting BDS. Which leaves supporters of Israel (non-Jews as well as Jews) the antisemites, since it’s there support of apartheid Israel that stokes the violence that underlies the hatred of the violent miessianic movements in the Mideast, endangering, thereby, not only Israeli Jews but all Jews. Thus, any increase in antisemitism is attributable to the existence of Israel.

Jacobo, since you identify yourself “those of us who always side with the oppressed,” what other countries do you target with BDS? Or is it just Israel?

jacobo says:

Currently only Israel because Israel is the nation (make that settler-state) that claims to speak for Jews everywhere. Which means that unless Israel is brought to its senses, such that, it stops attacking its neighbors and agrees to sit down with the Palestinians so as to work things out based upon one equals one with liberty and justice for all, not only we Jews are at risk, but life on earth. Except it won’t happen because Jewish-Americans (our youth especially) are waking up to the fact that Israel’s intransigence vis a vis justice for Palestine not only endangers U.S. troops in Vietnam* but threatens our (America’s, that is) nation’s security.

*as per General David Petreaus, Vice President Joe Biden, among others.

Jacobo — included in the EU working definition of anti-Semitism are:

“Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g. by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.” And “Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded if any other democratic nation.”

(ref: http://fra.europa.eu/fraWebsite/material/pub/AS/AS-WorkingDefinition-draft.pdf)

Your first post reads to me like it matches the EU definition of anti-Semitism which puts you beyond the pale (born Jew, or not).

jacobo says:

No people has a right to self-determination when it is expressed through occupying another people’s land. Yes, this applies to the U.S. of A. too, except, on account of the genocide of our own indigenous people, it’s too late now to do anything about it. But it’s not too late (yet) for us to stop these perpetual U.S. wars against the people of Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, and we shall. As for double-standards, no apartheid state qualifies to be a democracy. What’s more there’s no doubt that Israel’s a racist endeavor. After all what was yesterday’s police riot in Umm Al-Fahm all about, if not racism. It sure brought back memories of the “Bull” Connor led police riots during the l963 Birmingham March For Civil Rights. Back then, in case you’ve forgotten, apartheid previaled throughout our southern states.

Carrie says:

Wow 2 articles about J Street in one day. I guess this magazine is working overtime to restore J Street’s ruined image.

Bryna Weiss says:

Why is anyone surprised at the duplicity of Ben Ami? It was clear to me from day one. He is a self-aggrandizing egotist who sees himself as some kind of glorious leader (heavily funded, of course). The generalizations in these comments in this column is so disturbing. I am a committed and loyal Obama supporter and activist. I am a lifelong and devoted Democrat- yes, I am a liberal BUT I also support Israel. I think the settlers have to be dealt with at some point, the ultra-Orthodox have to have their influence abated, and there needs to be two States side by side. But Israel has a right to defend itself, it has a right to build walls to keep out suicide bombers who kill innocent people, it has a right to expect to live without missiles being lobbed at it repeatedly, it has a right to stop boats from breaking it’s blockade and it has a right to have it’s successes and it’s humanitarian actions applauded at the same time it’s mistakes are criticized. I think J Street uses the same tactics as the far right and it’s anti_Israel leaders have conned nice, sweet people, using their genuine desire for Peace, into the “pack” mentality that is devisive and dangerous. Oh, and I don’t think Obama will fall for this crap. His hopes for Israel and his respect for it’s people are genuine- unlike Ben Ami and his followers.

Jacobo,

Man you full of s***!

Let’s not forget how the Turks suppress Kurdish rights. Or how Spanish suppress Basque rights to name a few. No, only the evil Joos (who you claim to be, but give no actual proof) are the true ‘terrorists.’ Why don’t you do us all favor do what Tali Fahima did a few months back.

Really poor puff piece. As one commenter already said, no mention of the mysterious Hong Kong donor or the many other sketchy aspects of J Street, just a hard cut from the Soros denial to Ben Ami’s dynamic personality.
Because of the timing, this reads like a paid advertisement from J Street, but either way, it’s shoddy journalism that indicates only a superficial understanding of politics. That’s fine. I use tablet as a current events mag, not a political site. And I realize tablet is also working from Soros like donations, and will probably fold like Heeb Magazine once the seed money runs out, but I hope it does so with dignity and not infomercials for J Street.

J Street has no raison d’etre and its fifteen minutes are already used up, but I can’t explain exactly why in 2,000 characters or less. Jeremy Ben Ami has all the gravitas of Shmuley Boteach. J Street was a cynical ploy to buy their way into legitimacy, but there’s no substance. If people are tired of AIPAC, the answer isn’t another lobbying group, particularly one as substanceless as J Street. J Street is about egos. Despite these puff pieces, it won’t last beyond the seed money, and the end has already begun. You can’t buy legitimacy, and most J Street supporters don’t have the attention span or enough interest in the Israeli/Arab conflict to stick around for the long haul.

Okay, now I realize there are a pages two and three to the article, and the Hong Kong donor was addressed. Also, it’s not as much of a puff piece as I initially thought, so I take back some of those comments. Not surprising that the germ of the J Street idea came from Dean campaigners, because it has that ‘new left wing hope’ feeling written all over it. But we al know how those ventures end. Just ask Bill Bradley and Ralph Nader. J-Street is what happens when you take starry eyed waifs and let them try to tackle the Mid East conflict. This is a bigger and more intractable issue than they understand. Schmoozing for funds is one thing, but trying to play god in MidEast politics is a humbling experience.

Mickymse says:

I don’t see how the presence of non-Jewish “Arab money” should be expected to make J Street’s motives any more suspicious than the phenomenal amount of non-Jewish “Christian money” and extremely conservative political support that now helps to prop up old guard groups like AIPAC.

The simple fact on the ground is that the current path to peace is not working… and sooner or later people have to face up to one of two solutions: Israel withdrawing from the territories in some fashion to create a two-state solution OR Israel finally annexing the territories to create a one-state western democracy with full suffrage for all residents.

Lauren Helfand says:

J Street is short for Jihad Street. Stop publishing these pandering articles about J-street. I was going to sign up for your newsletters. Not now, after seeing this article.

Paul Freedman says:

J Street, unfortunately, continues to be neither pro-israel, nor pro-peace, now protecting its turf against conservative Jewish attacks on its designated political favorites by invoking the usual anti-Semitic blather about “Israel-right-or-wrong” “neoconservatives”–in other words recirculating the dual loyalty canards so well flogged by the likes of Pat Buchanan and, well, yes, the Islamic lobby that, well, funds J-Street–and not merely “Arab” but heftily Iranian-endowed too.

Annexation does not, by the way, under current conventions, have to mean fully democratic anything, if we lok to how the obscenely hypocritical nations of the world conduct their actual affairs. Russia was not overly delicate with Chechnyan democracy, and, folks might test the tender sensitivities of China re: democratic participation of the Tibetians in their own society, now annexed by China. Well, China isn’t exactly a democracy either is it? Oh wait! Neither is the Palestinian Authority. Or Saudia Arabia. Or Syria, Or Iran. Or etc. etc .etc.

Israel’s first duty is to survive.

An arduous task the pro-Palestinian, pro-Iranian tools of J Street,.

But wait, they do it seems represent the anti-Israel peacenik pseudo-intellectual elitists of the New York Times.

victor treschan says:

The attacks against J Street are histerical and completely out of proportion. These attacks only show the critical need for a rational, progressive voice in support for a just and negotiated peace in the Middle East.

Berney Cohen says:

The hateful smears displayed in these comments are both innacurate and discusting. You have become tools for the settlement regime. Yes Soros did donate to JStreet, having said that he only donated 9 percent of their total funding. Explain how this makes them a Soros ran organization. Most of their funding comes from Jewish grass roots activist, Check out their funders on open secrets. Who on the right wing of the community is fueling this anti peace hate ?

I think the commenters on this article have been reading Jpost a bit to much. J street an evil saudi funded soros dominated anti Israel plot. None of these things are true although they have been going around in email smears. No different then the obama is a muslim emails.

The evidence shows that j street is 98 percent financed by American Jews. as the previous poster said , the list is publicly available from the FTC and open secrets. Almost every name is ineed Jewish, I checked which most of you don,t have the sense to do. Some pro peace Arabs have given money , this makes them Saudi funded ? Wow quite a stretch you paranoids. I think the Jewish community needs it’s own rally to restore sanity.

Raymond in DC says:

Mickeysme writes of the “phenomenal amount of non-Jewish “Christian money” and extremely conservative political support that now helps to prop up old guard groups like AIPAC” to justify the non-Jewish “Arab” money going to J Street. You really don’t get it, do you? Christians and conservatives are sending money to AIPAC because they *support* Israel. Now tell me why Arab and Iranian lobbying groups and Soros are supporting J Street.

With “friends” like this, who needs enemies?

Barney Cohen says:

The Arabs who donated to Jstreet did so because of it’s pro peace goals. I checked and these Iranian groups are against the current regime In Iran and are pro Iranian green movement who supports peace. Just because their Iranian does not mean their terrorist , unless of course your a bigot. Also The claim Soros is anti isreal is also hysterical. He said he loves his people but is not a Zionist, how is this anti Israel ? He never said he is anti Zionist , these are two different things. He also said Israel policy causes anti semitisim. This may not be true but does not make him anti Israel. Unless you begin to raise the bar of what anti Israel means you will be shutting out a large majority of the Jewish youth. Many of my friends do not want to join the community exactly because of this hysterical way you old folks go about supporting Israel. If you don’t change these ways the generational flux will tear the community apart. It’s happening right before my eyes. These Sarah Palin esqe guilt by association tactics used on JStreet remind me of the “Obama pals around with terrorist” theme we heard during election 08. RESTORE SOME SANITY !

JACOBO wrote: “Yes, this applies to the U.S. of A. too, except, on account of the genocide of our own indigenous people, it’s too late now to do anything about it.”
No, Jacobo, it is not too late. You still can return to the closest Indian tribe the stolen from them land together with the house you are living in. Unless you do it you have no right (rightfully or wrongfully) to criticize others.

I noticed that many JStreet supporters are ready to accuse Israelis of grabbing someone’s land while they themselves live on the stolen property and don’t give a damn about it. In their self-righteous sincerity they think they have the right to benefit from the robbery (only they and nobody else) as long as true owners of the land could be kept locked in specially prepared reservations. (Just imagine what these self-righteous Jews would say if Israel put Arabs in reservations!) Clever “progressives” might think that they have the easy way out: the evil was done without their involvement and their hands are clean because they have no ability to correct it. Let me tell you, JStreet pals: you are mistaken. You can correct it. (Yes, you can!) You can return the land you live on (together with your house) to the true owners (without compensation, for sure, you should not be compensated for a theft) and go back to where you buddy Helen Tomas has suggested you to go (Was it Germany? Or Poland? Whatever it was. Why limit her suggestion to Israel?) (I wonder why Helen Tomas did not suggest herself to go back to Libya? “Progressive” modesty?)

What J-Street doesn’t understand about a “2 State Solution”:

http://shomroncentral.blogspot.com/

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