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J Street Jiu-Jitsu

How the group navigated the Soros scandal

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The right will still have J Street to kick around—and, in a sense, it has itself to blame.

The “pro-Israel, pro-peace” organization looked on the ropes last month. It had, at best, obfuscated about having received roughly one-third of its revenue—some $245,000—for the period between July 2008 and July 2009 from controversial left-wing donor George Soros. It further turned out that Mort Halperin, a Soros confidante and senior adviser to Soros’s Open Society Institute, had been one of J Street’s unrevealed officers and directors—which critics seized on as the smoking-gun evidence that Soros wished to substantially influence the group.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the woodshed. J Street honcho Jeremy Ben-Ami apologized to the group’s board, and the board decided to stick with him. Ben-Ami apologized to supporters. It’s not a month later, and despite—because of?—calls from the right for candidates like Joe Sestak and Robin Carnahan to return J Street funds, J Street is back to raising money for its preferred candidates: Earlier this week for two New York Democrats; now for Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Illinois), who is facing a tough challenge from Republican Joel Pollak. In fact, Schakowsky is using calls for her to return J Street’s money—calls predicated on the Soros revelations—as fundraising leverage: “I reject calls by my GOP opponent to return campaign contributions from JStreetPAC,” she said, “and his cynical attempt to turn Israel into a partisan wedge issue at this delicate and potentially historic moment.”

J Street’s so-far successful strategy has been to change the conversation from whose money it took to what it and its opponents respectively stand for, and trust its opponents, who might have been feeling a touch of vindication from the Soros news, to overreach. Ben-Ami concluded his original apology, all the way back in September, by going on the offensive: “Those who attack J Street over the sources of its funding are not good government watchdogs,” he argued. “In reality, our opponents are on the other side of a broader ideological battle over American and Israeli policy, looking for any excuse to avoid debating the merits of the issues. They are defending an indefensible status quo and would lead us to a future that ensures perpetual conflict and violence, not long-term security for Israel or the United States.”

And it has worked. Kudos to James Besser for predicting all of this, also several weeks ago:

The ongoing, over-the-top opposition to J Street by so many Jews on the right—and even some Jewish leaders seen as centrists—may ultimately help limit the damage caused by the group’s inexplicably ham-handed actions on Soros.

J Street will “probably be saved by enemies who greatly overstate their case,” [former J Street legislative director Doug Bloomfield] said. “That hysteria is part of what put J Street on the map in the first place, and overreaction of those same enemies may save them from more damage.” …

J Street isn’t just wrong on the issue of the best route to peace for Israel, these critics say, it’s anti-Israel, it’s comprised of self-hating Jews, it’s a shill for a president who is determined to punish an Israel he despises and an apologist for Islamic terrorists.

And George Soros isn’t just a very rich guy who’s pretty far on the left and lacks warm fuzzies about Israel but a vicious Israel hater and probably an anti-Semite to boot.

We’ve heard this stuff since J Street was created in 2008, and if anything it’s just gotten more extreme in the past year. It’s a good bet it’ll be ratcheted up still further in the wake of the new revelations.

Such rhetorical overkill plays well with a lot of Republicans and with the Jewish right—but among Democrats it could very well produce a sympathetic backlash for a group that acted really stupidly by lying about Soros’ donations—but will be seen by many progressives as the victim of extremist rhetoric from the right despite that.

It would be wrong to call this a failure of Republican Jewish forces. They have assuredly raised a pretty penny from all of this themselves. The Emergency Committee for Israel is still getting its footing, but it will be around; its prime candidate, Rep. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, will probably defeat Sestak in their Senate race. But I do think the right’s pushback against J Street, and its broader pattern of misconstruing J Street’s agenda, actually gave J Street something to lean on as the winds of scandal raged. If that pushback hadn’t existed, would those winds have topled J Street? We’ll never know.

J Street Raises Money Off Raising Money Off J Street [Capital J]
Related: Will The Jewish Right Save J Street From Itself? [Political Insider]
Earlier: Soros Funding of J Street Revealed

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Jiu-Jitsu? More likely it was much ado about nothing.

I’m not sure what “success” means in this context. From the beginning, J Street was a schizophrenic organization, attempting to represent both the diminishing population of ultra-dovish-but-pro-Israel liberal Jews and the solid rump of hard-left, anti-Israel Jews. The recent scandals–its dissembling about its funding, its support for Richard Goldstone and its leader’s rhetorical flirtation with outright anti-Zionism–have effectively driven away the genuinely pro-Israel doves. (When you’ve lost Jeffrey Goldberg, whose soft spot for leftist Jewish peaceniks covers most of his chest, you’ve lost American Jewish doves.)

But the anti-Israel leftists aren’t going to abandon the new, openly anti-Israel J Street, and their political friends have no reason to abandon it, either. So as long as its wealthy donors can keep it going, it will continue to have a constituency willing to rally around it. The only difference is that it’s been shorn of its fig leaf of Israel-supporting doves, and is now completely alienated from the pro-Israel majority of the Jewish community.

Liz Wagner says:

Nice try, crediting the right with J Street’s survival. The reason J Street is back to business-as-usual is its members and supporters are so removed from reality, they don’t care if their sugar-daddy, Soros, donates piles of money to the Palestinians and never gives a dime to Israel. J Street was started to pry open the checkbooks and wallets of liberal Jews who need to believe they’re pro-Israel, even if their money and support is used to help eliminate the Jewish state. It’s no surprise people who cling to the fantasy that the Palestinians want to live in peace with Israel would ignore the deception Soros and Ben-Ami have perpetrated. Give all the credit to the financially flush, but morally bankrupt anti-Israel left.

Maayan says:

Living in Israel, it continues to surprise and disturb me that people like Liz Wagner blithely call completely mainstream opinion in Israel the “anti-Israel left”. People that agree with and support the existence of Israel as a Jewish state are happily in the zionist camp, and can legitimately advocate and act to save Israel (perhaps from itself), as they see fit. This includes the vast majority of Jewish criticizers & peace activists, and most of the Israeli left wing. What’s the hysteria? American and Canadian Jewish communities tend to be much more one-note in their “support” of Israel (ie. support of whatever the current Israeli government does, no matter what) than are Israelis themselves. The existence of Israel advocacy of various stripes within the diaspora Jewish community is very healthy. This, of course, is different than the college-campus style of activism which often denies Israel’s legitimate existence and lays 100% of the blame on the demonized zionists. This, we must all do our best to rebut.

David Star says:

No matter how many ways you want to express it, “misspoke”, “forgot”, “meant to say”, a lie is still a lie and a liar is still a liar!
Ben David is much too intelligent to wish the world to know that the anti-semite Soros is the one holding his leash and has been since the beginning of this group of “Auswarfim”. Therefore he hid the true identity of his master, and now the left’s spin doctors attempt to claim that his final admission absolves him.
In Israel we have paid repeatedly with blood for the naive acts of the maudlin left. Be it Oslo, the first second and third Intifadas, the destruction of the Jewish communities of Gaza, the left leaning Jews of the world, continue to sing “Kumbiyah”.

Norm Cone says:

Is J-Street really still alive? Sure, as long as some liberal
candidates a la Shestak, Carnahan and Schakowsky can use Ben-
Ami to help with financing their campaign, J-Street will continue to pretend to play a roll in the Jewish community. But as soon as the elections are over, J-Street will be on the ropes again and staying there for good.

Hey – stop bad mouthing J Street OK ? So where ever it
get’s it’s $$$ should not be a problem as long as it’s
not illegal! J Street is NOT going anywhere ….. so
let up OK ? As we Jews are concerned we have many organizations defining who we are and our numerous
belefts and want the best for Israel.

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J Street Jiu-Jitsu

How the group navigated the Soros scandal

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