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J Street Fails Its Fans

The hoopla surrounding the upstart lobby doesn't translate into instant political clout.

by
Lenny Ben-David

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November 22, 2009 - 12:05 am
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On November 3, the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to support Resolution 838 calling on the president and the secretary of state “to oppose unequivocally any endorsement or further consideration of the ‘Report of the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict’ [a.k.a. the Goldstone Report] in multilateral fora.”

The vote was 344 to 36, with 22 representatives copping out with a “present” vote and 30 not voting. I assumed, probably like other Washington observers, that the 36 members, who by their vote supported Goldstone’s anti-Israel report, were members who had accepted political contributions from J Street’s political action committee. After all, the upstart organization had just completed their much ballyhooed conference in Washington, sent their delegates to lobby on Capitol Hill, and had expressed strong reservations about the congressional resolution.

To be fair, J Street didn’t come out with a blatant declaration of opposition to the resolution. It just called for the passage of “a balanced, thoughtful Congressional resolution” or “amendment of the resolution before passage to bring it in line with the principles we articulate.” As one of J Street’s blogger allies wrote:

Members of Congress close to AIPAC introduced a resolution condemning the Goldstone report that is so one-sided it might have been drafted by the Likud Central Committee. J Street did not waste a moment. It issued a statement that it would not support the resolution.

J Street’s opposition couldn’t have been clearer.

J Street takes great pride in their upstart political action committee. “The PAC distributed over $578,000 to its candidates,” J Street’s website crows. “[That’s] more than any other pro-Israel PAC in the two-year cycle, despite only launching publicly in April 2008.”

[NB: That $578,000 distributed was out of more than $840,000 raised, according to Federal Election Commission records.]

Since that election cycle, J Street’s PAC boasted contributions in 2009 of more than $30,000 to Representative Donna Edwards of Maryland and $35,000 to Steve Cohen of Tennessee.

Those PAC contributions translate to political clout, right?

Absolutely wrong.

In the case of the Goldstone vote, not one of the top 10 J Street PAC recipients in the 2008 cycle voted against the pro-Israel resolution, and some of those candidates (Mary Jo Kilroy of Ohio, Gary Peters of Michigan, Debbie Halvorson of Illinois, and Steve Cohen) had received as much as $30,000 to $47,000. Only Donna Edwards, the J Street darling for whom the organization ran a special appeal in 2009, voted against the resolution. Others who voted with Edwards included Arab-American representatives, congressional gadflies such as Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich, and a handful of representatives who are long-time critics of Israel.

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