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Showdown on J Street

Pointed questions for director Jeremy Ben-Ami before the new "pro-Israel, pro-peace" lobby's first big conference.

by
Lenny Ben-David

Bio

October 20, 2009 - 12:07 am
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J Street’s director, Jeremy Ben-Ami, published an open letter to Israel’s Ambassador Michael Oren in the Jerusalem Post this week insisting that he appear at the J Street Conference at the end of the month. Hopefully, Ambassador Oren will continue to deny the supposed “pro-Israel” organization the legitimacy of his presence.

J Street’s goals and policies were revealed when Stephen Walt, co-author of the venomous The Israel Lobby, recently proclaimed, “This is a key moment in the debate. 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.’”

It’s time to call out Jeremy Ben-Ami, J Street’s director, to answer the following questions:

1: You served as Fenton Communications’ senior vice president until you established J Street, launched in 2008.  In early 2009, Fenton signed contracts with a Qatari foundation to lead an 18-month long anti-Israel campaign in the United States with a special focus on campuses. The actual text of the contract called for: “An international public opinion awareness campaign that advocates for the accountability of those who participated in attacks against schools in Gaza.”

Did you sever your ties with Fenton when you began J Street? Do you retain any role or holdings in Fenton today? Did you play any role in introducing Fenton to the Qatari agents or play any role in facilitating the contract? Were you aware of the negotiations or the contract signed on March 12, 2009?

These questions are relevant because it’s important to know if J Street’s refusal to support Israel’s anti-Hamas military campaign was influenced by your ties with Fenton, whose promotional material claims: “We only represent people and projects we believe in.”

Were there discussions with Fenton prior to J Street’s refusal to condemn the Goldstone Report on Gaza, a report that certainly serves the Fenton/Qatari interests? Were there communications with Fenton surrounding J Street’s support for Rep. Donna Edwards who refused to sign a congressional resolution supporting Israeli actions in Gaza?

2: You were recently asked in an interview about funds J Street received from Palestinians, Arab-Americans, and Iranian-Americans, to which you answered: “J Street does have some Arab and Muslim donors — about five. These are individuals, not organizations, corporations or foreign countries. Well over 90 percent of our money comes from Jewish Americans and Christians.”

Did you really say J Street has only five Arab and Muslim donors? A partial listing quickly extracted from the U.S. Federal Election Commission shows more than 30 contributors, many with ties to Arab-American organizations.

So far, only J Street’s Political Action Committee has disclosed its contributors, as mandated by federal law. But who are the donors to the main J Street organization? Make that list public, and these pesky inquiries will probably go away.

When asked about J Street’s funding by the Jerusalem Post — the newspaper that ran the original exposé — you responded “at most 3 percent” of contributors were Muslim or Arab.  Now you state that the figure may be closer to 10 percent. One tenth of J Street’s budget of $3 million, or $300,000, is a substantial sum. Why do so many Arabs contribute to an organization that purports to be “pro-Israel?”

3: Do any Israelis support J Street’s agenda? How many? Look at the list of Israeli speakers appearing at J Street’s Conference, all losers in Israel’s political arena: Ami Ayalon, Colette Avital, Amir Peretz, Shlomo Ben-Ami, Yuli Tamir, Amnon Lipkin-Shahak.  They have all failed to secure support from the Israeli electorate or even from their own parties, so they take their messages to the U.S. and plead with the U.S. government to pressure Israel’s government, make the Israelis do things that their citizens have already rejected. The tactic is patently anti-democratic.

Two retired senior IDF officers, well-known members of the peace camp, recently went to the U.S. to speak on J Street’s behalf. When they got there they discovered that J Street opposed sanctions against Iran. According to a JTA account, Brig. Gen.(res) Israela Oron called for a “timetable that would be tied to punishing sanctions.”

“The thing that worries me and that worries other Israelis is that [current negotiations are] not limited in time,” Oron said as the faces of her J Street hosts turned anxious, adding “I’m not sure I’m expressing the J Street opinion.”

Maj. Gen. (res) Danny Rothschild discovered that he differed with J Street’s policies on an immediate freezing of settlements, the halting of settlements’ natural growth, and opposing tough sanctions against Iran.

And then Labor MK Ophir Pines-Paz spoke to a Washington gathering in early October sponsored by J Street’s co-founder, Daniel Levy, today of the New America Foundation. When Pines-Paz was told he was wrong in “assuming that everyone on the left is aligned on Iran’s nuclear capabilities and threat, [and in agreement] with Israel’s assessment,” he exploded. “Wake up!” he shouted.

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