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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

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.

J Street produced a film clip for its site and for YouTube showing prominent Israelis who “speak out in support of a two-state solution and J Street.” But do they actually support J Street? View the clip carefully and discover that only three out of 11 Israelis mention J Street at all — former minister Ami Ayalon and Uri Savir. The third is former MK Colette Avital who is a J Street employee in Israel. Not quite the ringing endorsement J Street had in mind.

Even the leaders of Israel’s opposition have refused to appear at the Conference, according to sources in Jerusalem.

4: How extensive is your interlocking directorship? I believe that is the correct characterization of J Street and its allied organizations. J Street’s contributions from the heads of the Arab American Institute and Iranian lobby NIAC have been documented in these pages. They serve on J Street’s Finance Committee which has a minimum requirement of $10,000. As research continues in the files of various federal agencies, we found that the interlocking relations continue into the second tiers as well.

Take for example, the case of Rebecca Abou-Chedid. She appears in the federal elections records as contributing to J Street’s PAC. Her occupation is listed as “consultant” for “USUS LLC.” But until recently, she was also the national political director at the Arab American Institute where she “was responsible for formulating AAI’s positions on foreign policy … and represented the Arab American community with Congress as well as the Departments of Homeland Security, Justice, and State.” Today, Abou-Chedid is the director of outreach at the New America Foundation’s Middle East Task Force.

J Street co-founder and Advisory Council member Daniel Levy serves as co-director of the Middle East Task Force at the New America Foundation, an institute that benefits from George Soros’ largess and membership on its board.

Heads of other pro-Arab organizations, such as AMIDEAST, and Arab foreign agents are contributors to the PAC. But Mr. Ben-Ami claims that no organizations or foreign governments contribute. They don’t need do; their representatives do.

5: Who drives policy at J Street? It’s difficult  to imagine that the unwieldy J-Street 160-member board of advisors directs policy. Some of those members are also foreign agents who worked for Egypt and Saudi Arabia. It also seems unlikely that your big bucks, 50-member Finance Committee provides decision-making guidance. That’s where the heads of the pro-Iranian and Arab-American lobbies sit.

So who directs policy? A hint was provided by a left-wing blogger, Richard Silverstein, who heard the pre-launch spiel in Seattle given by you and “co-founder” Daniel Levy 18 months ago.

“It’s always important with efforts like this to examine the board member names,” Silverman wrote. “There are of course leaders of the main American Jewish peace groups. There are rabbis and academics. But most important there are heavy hitter political donors (Alan Solomont), policy wonks (Rob Malley), U.S. ambassadors to Israel (Samuel Lewis), high level political operatives (Eli Pariser of Moveon), Hollywood liberals (Robert Greenwald), business leaders, George Soros’ top aide (Morton Halperin), and even a former Republican senator (Lincoln Chafee) and former Congressman (Tom Downey). … The group founders believe that Barack Obama and his staff “get” J Street’s perspective while they believe a Clinton candidacy might not advance J Street’s mission as aggressively.” [Note, the briefing was given at the height of the Democratic primaries.]

Soros, the National Journal reported, was present at J Street’s initial strategy sessions.

Anyone reading Soros’ 2007 manifesto, “On Israel, America and AIPAC,” will understand that he is the spiritual godfather of J Street, if not its silent sugardaddy.

“I believe that a much-needed self-examination of American policy in the Middle East has started in this country,” Soros proclaimed, “but it can’t make much headway as long as AIPAC retains powerful influence in both the Democratic and Republican parties. Some leaders of the Democratic Party have promised to bring about a change of direction but they cannot deliver on that promise until they are able to resist the dictates of AIPAC. Palestine is a place of critical importance where positive change is still possible. Iraq is largely beyond our control; but if we succeeded in settling the Palestinian problem we would be in a much better position to engage in negotiations with Iran and extricate ourselves from Iraq. The need for a peace settlement in Palestine is greater than ever. Both for the sake of Israel and the United States, it is highly desirable that the Saudi peace initiative should succeed; but AIPAC stands in the way. It continues to oppose dealing with a Palestinian government that includes Hamas.”

So it appears that Soros has created an organization that competes with AIPAC, calls for inclusion of Hamas, and opposes sanctions against Iran. His people sit on J Street’s board, and his other offspring from the New America Foundation and the National Iranian American Council, work in lockstep. It’s a scary scenario that should attract the attention of the best investigative reporters from national news outlets, but the modern day Lotus Eaters have been lulled and ensnared by J Street.

But just because they won’t ask the tough questions doesn’t mean that they don’t have to be answered.

The writer served as a senior Israeli diplomat in Washington. Today he is a consultant on public affairs and blogs at www.lennybendavid.com.
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