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?
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.
What explains J Street’s inability to garner their troops? First, and certainly foremost, is the fact that support for Israel in the American public and Congress remains high. Despite the paeans to J Street written by the New York Times or Mother Jones, most members of Congress apparently do not buy into J Street’s “pro-Israel” claim. Witness the many members who peeled off of the J Street conference’s host committee, or who simply didn’t show up at its dinner.
For all the hoopla, J Street is undefined. Except for its director, Jeremy Ben-Ami, its top leadership and decision-makers are anonymous. Who does Ben-Ami consult with before he decides on a controversial policy such as opposing sanctions against Iran? Only the occasional exposé reveals funding from unusual sources (Saudi-connected individuals, National Iranian American Council (NIAC) directors, Arab-American leaders) or the fact that J Street co-founder Mort Halperin, an aide to George Soros, ghostwrote Richard Goldstone’s defense of his report that he sent to congressional offices.
J Street remains mysterious. Who are its major funders? So far, only its political action committee contribution list is open to the public, and the names and backgrounds of some of the donors raise questions about the PAC’s motives. The fact that many have Arabic surnames is not the issue; their background of defaming Israel or defending Hamas or working for Saudi Arabia is.
Even after its conference J Street remains indefinable. Its student component wants to drop the “pro-Israel” claim. Some of its delegates argue for a one-state solution that would dissolve or destroy Israel. J Street claims to reflect positions of the Israeli Kadima party and Israel’s peace camp, but when Israelis such as former Kadima minister Meir Sheetrit or former general and leader of the peace camp Danny Rothschild discovered that J Street opposes sanctions against Iran, they distanced themselves from J Street.
Finally, J Street lacks direction. Jeremy Ben-Ami told the New York Times in September that J Street’s “No. 1 agenda item is to do whatever we can in Congress to act as the president’s blocking back.” But a blocker must know what play was called by the quarterback, Barack Obama. Coming into office, Obama and his aides may have had an ideological goal line in the Middle East that became J Street’s playbook. Indeed, there are reports of Obama’s aides being present at the formation of J Street, then called the “Soros Project.”
Once in office, however, Obama found the conditions on the field to be different from what he thought, and, the good politician that he is, he changed the plays. But in J Street’s case, it ran so far downfield on the issues of settlements, Hamas, Goldstone, and Iranian sanctions that it isn’t relevant to the game. Its ties to NIAC and to questionable funders may actually make it an “ineligible receiver downfield.” And the conclusion is that it is certainly not a “pro-Israel” team.
So what do the J Street blockers do in such a situation? Re-huddle and run the play called by the quarterback? Not if you listen to one of J Street’s staunchest fans, MJ Rosenberg, a radical defamer of Israel, who recently criticized quarterback Obama for lacking “the will to take the actions J Street wants to support.” The J Street players should bully the president, Rosenberg wrote: “After all, supporting Obama’s policies doesn’t mean anything if Obama’s policies are weak or inconsistent. Unfortunately, right now, Obama seems unwilling to push hard for his own policies.”
With such players and fans, it’s no wonder members of Congress and American Jews don’t want to play on the team. And at some point candidates and donors may conclude that there are better investments than J Street’s PAC, whose records are open and available to all on the internet for public scrutiny.