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Twenty-Six Reasons J Street’s Demise Shouldn’t Be Mourned

I recently conducted a week of meetings on Capitol Hill, and it’s clear that Israel’s supporters on the left need a better organization than J Street to represent them.

J Street’s attack on liberal flagbearer Rep. Gary Ackerman is evidence of the organization’s incompetent decision-making. J Street’s support for a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israel proves just how counterfeit its “pro-Israel” claim is. The latest Washington Times exposé showing that the organization’s director apparently violated IRS “self-dealing” regulations proves just how corrupt, dishonest, and devious J Street is.

Here are 26 reasons why no one should mourn J Street’s downfall, or at the very least, the resignation of J Street director.

1. According to the Times, J Street’s founder and director Jeremy Ben-Ami is co-owner of the Ben-Or public relations company in Israel. A dozen far-left organizations and detractors of Israel make use of Ben-Or’s services. Ben-Ami can claim as much as he wants that he doesn’t receive compensation from Ben-Or, but the fact remains that as a founder and owner he is responsible for the leftist ideological orientation of the PR company. As the head of a charitable organization (J Street Educational Fund) and a non-profit organization (J Street), he has retained Ben-Or to work for J Street. He is, in effect, paying himself with charitable donations. It’s a conflict of interest and called “self-dealing” in the world of tax violations.

2. J Street claims to be “pro-Israel,” but its actions, coalition partners, positions, speakers it sponsors, and Ben-Or clients show that its pro-Israel assertion is one big con job. Jimmy Carter and his “Elders” partners Desmond Tutu and Mary Robinson, three of Israel’s biggest critics, are clients in Ben-Ami’s PR company. Can Ben-Ami ever take positions contrary to his clients?

3. J Street’s political action committee continues to take contributions from the Saudi Arabian embassy’s attorney. First exposed in the Jerusalem Post in August 2009, Nancy Dutton’s J Street PAC contributions continued in October 2010, according to the most recent Federal Elections Commission reports. What is it about J Street that attracts Dutton and other Saudi-related power-brokers in Washington?

4. J Street received $811,697 — half of its 2009 budget — from Consolacion “Connie” Esdicul, a mystery woman from Hong Kong. The only thing known about the woman is a lame J Street explanation that she is a friend of a J Street benefactor, world-class professional gambler Bill Benter. Does she even know where Israel is on the map? Until Ms. Esdicul comes clean, the donation — probably a foreign currency money transfer based on the uneven sum — smells of money laundering.

5. Look who endorses J Street. “This is a key moment in the debate,” says Stephen Walt, co-author of the anti-Israel book The Israel Lobby. “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.’” — Mother Jones, September 2009

6. How many times did Jeremy Ben-Ami deny that J Street received funds from the Israel- and AIPAC-loathing George Soros? Eventually, it was discovered that J Street was receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars from Soros and his family when J Street’s IRS files were accidentally made public. Now, Ben-Ami covers his deceit by publicly expressing pride in the Soros participation.

7. J Street’s lobbying operation is detailed in records of the secretary of the Senate and the clerk of the House. The records show that in the first quarter of 2009, J Street was spending less than $5,000 on lobbying expenses. By the first quarter of 2010, it was spending $130,000 per quarter. Where did this windfall come from, if not from George Soros or the mysterious Hong Kong donor?

8. J Street upholds a fundamentally anti-democratic ideal that Israel must be saved in spite of itself, that the people of Israel will never voluntarily surrender the West Bank and east Jerusalem, and that the United States must impose a solution on Israel. Ben-Ami, the son of a right-wing Irgun operative, Yitshaq Ben-Ami, who died in 1985, could have been an Irgun “prince” just like Dan Meridor, Binyamin Netanyahu, Tzipi Livni, and Ehud Olmert, but he couldn’t hack it in Israel, by his own admission to Moment:

Personally, Ben-Ami found Israeli society harder to penetrate. “If you didn’t grow up in Israel, and you’re making aliyah, and you don’t speak Hebrew fluently, and you didn’t serve in the army, in terms of professional opportunities and full acceptance into the society, there were some barriers to coming in at 35.” Despite his sabra ties and professional success, he concluded, “I didn’t think I could ever be 100-percent fully accepted as an Israeli.”

So Ben-Ami did the next best thing: He returned to the U.S. to attack Israel’s government from Washington. We’ll leave it to Freud to analyze Ben-Ami Junior’s opposition to everything that his father Ben-Ami Senior stood for.

9. J Street joined with the pro-Iranian lobby, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), to oppose congressional efforts to impose sanctions on Iran. Ben-Ami and NIAC director Trita Parsi co-authored an anti-sanctions article titled “How Diplomacy Can Work with Iran” in Huffington Post in June 2009.

10. J Street receives large contributions from one of NIAC’s directors, Genevieve Lynch of New York. She serves on J Street’s Finance Committee, and her J Street PAC contributions exceed $10,000 per year.

11. J Street’s PAC received tens of thousands of dollars from one of the leaders of the Arab American community, Richard Abdoo. J Street’s relationship with the Arab American Institute is very tight, with the two organizations meeting together with White House officials. The Arab American Institute was also identified in 2004 as involved in a plot to establish a bogus organization called the Alliance for Justice and Peace in the Middle East, an organization that railed against Israeli settlements and praised Saudi King Abdullah’s peace plan. Behind the plot was a PR firm called Qorvis that served as Saudi Arabia’s foreign agent in Washington. The FBI raided Qorvis because of the bogus organization. Are J Street and the Arab American Institute the Alliance’s successors?

12. J Street PAC repeatedly took contributions from a Turkish American, Mehmet Celebi of Chicago. The Hillary Clinton presidential campaign dropped Celebi in 2008 when they discovered he helped produce Valley of the Wolves, a viciously anti-American and anti-Semitic Turkish film.

13. J Street refused to support Israel’s “Molten Lead” operation into Gaza in December 2008. At the outbreak of the conflict, J Street declared the action was “counterproductive” to peace and repeatedly called for a ceasefire. Rabbi Eric Yoffie, a leader of the Reform movement, attacked the J Street position as “morally deficient” and “profoundly out of touch with Jewish sentiment.”

14. J Street attacked critics of the appointment of the controversial Chas Freeman as the director of the National Intelligence Council. Ben-Ami charged that Freeman was done in because he was critical of Israel. “What is important to me,” Ben Ami wrote, “is that the Obama team not draw the lesson from this episode that they simply need to be more careful vetting of appointees to make sure they’ve never criticized Israel.” In truth, Freeman was opposed by many who were troubled by his defense of China’s human rights record and his close connections with Saudi Arabia, but Ben-Ami would not be deterred from attacking Israel’s supporters. “Some are strutting proudly today at the personal destruction of someone who — in their view — is a real foe of Israel. In their view, intimidating those who would otherwise speak their mind on Israel is the ultimate service to protect and defend the state of Israel.”

15. J Street recently sponsored a speaking tour for John Ging, head of UNRWA in Gaza. The raison d’être of UNRWA is to perpetuate the Palestinian refugees’ status, thus encouraging their “right of return.”  J Street hosts speakers who most certainly cannot be perceived as “pro-Israel.”

16. The largest donor to J Street’s PAC is Bob Morris — a “Latin teacher,” according to Federal Election papers — and an eccentric perennial political candidate from Teton Village near Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Morris, who is not known for any involvement in Israel or Jewish-related activity, gave $36,000 because, as he wrote recently, J Street “offset(s) the influence of AIPAC. It opposes Israel’s colonies on the West Bank … the #1 threat [sic] to our national security — and Israel’s.”

17. J Street’s congressional visit to Israel in February 2010 was a disaster. J Street’s Educational Fund cosponsored the mission with an activist group called Churches for Peace in the Middle East, an organization whose affiliates support the boycott, divestment, sanctions (BDS) efforts against Israel. When J Street’s Israel handlers, including Ben-Ami’s own PR company, sought a meeting with Israel’s deputy foreign minister they rejected a request by the official that he meet only with the representatives. “It’s all of us, or none of us,” was the gist of the well-publicized J Street response. In the end there was no meeting. Incidentally, two of the five representatives failed to return to Washington in the new Congress.

18. Morton Halperin serves as one of five directors of J Street. Halperin is a close advisor to George Soros and was the author of a letter to members of Congress written on behalf of Richard Goldstone, defending the Goldstone Report critical of Israel’s conduct in its war against Hamas in Gaza.

19. J Street staff helped set up meetings for Richard Goldstone on Capitol Hill. The organization “facilitated meetings between members of Congress and South African Judge Richard Goldstone,” the Washington Times reported. “Colette Avital — a former Labor Party member of the Knesset and until recently J Street’s liaison in Israel — told the Washington Times that her decision to resign her post with J Street earlier this year was a result in part of the group’s “connection to Judge Goldstone. ‘When Judge Goldstone came to Washington, [J Street leaders were] suggesting that they might help him set up his appointments on Capitol Hill.'”

20. Career U.S. Arabists are attracted to J Street, sitting on its advisory board or contributing to J Street’s PAC. These include Ray Close, former CIA station chief in Saudi Arabia and then advisor to the head of Saudi intelligence; Lewis Elbinger, a State Department foreign service officer who had been stationed in Saudi Arabia but now serves as deputy political advisor seconded to Gen. David Petraeus at CENTCOM; Nicole Shampaine, director of the State Department’s Office for Egypt and the Levant; Amb. Ted Kattouf, former ambassador to Syria and the United Arab Emirates; Ambassador Robert Pelletreau, former ambassador to Egypt, Tunisia and Bahrain; and Ambassador Philip Wilcox, former U.S. consul general in Jerusalem and president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace.

21. J Street is not really very concerned about “Jewish continuity.” Ben-Ami boasted to the New York Times of J Street’s staff: “They’re all intermarried,” he said. “They’re all doing Buddhist seders.” Perhaps that’s why J Street refuses to endorse the call for Palestinian recognition of Israel as a “Jewish State.”

22. Daniel Levy was Ben-Ami’s partner in the formation of J Street, and he sits on J Street’s advisory board. At a recent conference in Abu Dhabi, Levy stated “the creation of Israel” was “an act that was wrong.” J Street quickly came to Levy’s defense, claiming the statement was taken out of context, but a video of the meeting shows that the transcript was correct. Levy was also a defender of the Goldstone Report on Israel’s operation in Gaza in 2009. He’s a member of the “Journolist” cadre of leftist writers, bloggers, and journalists who strove to provide cover for Barack Obama from attacks.

In December 2010 the Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler referred to Levy as “a former Israeli peace negotiator now at the New America Foundation.” Excuse me. As deputy chief of mission and charge d’affaires in Israel’s Embassy in Washington for three years, I was an Israeli negotiator, with all of the stringent security clearances, polygraphs and surrendering of a second citizenship that came with it. Despite his biographical claims, I don’t believe Levy was ever an “Israeli negotiator,” but just an aide to Israeli officials who negotiated.

23. J Street promotes Ben-Ami’s clients in Washington. Thus, J Street circulates and promotes position papers and activities of clients the New Israel Fund and Peace Now. At least 10 different Ben-Or clients were showcased during J Street’s national conference last year. Fourteen different speakers from the 10 organizations were listed on the schedule to speak. A repeat performance is expected in Washington at the end of February.

24. The UN Committee on the Inalienable Exercise of the Palestinian People sponsors and coordinates anti-Israel non-governmental organizations around the world. Its published schedule for North America events lists the following organizations and their activities: CodePink, the American Task Force on Palestine, Students for Justice in Palestine, the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, and J Street. No right-wing Jewish groups or Israeli official ever lumped J Street together with Israel’s biggest detractors. Apparently, the UN committee knew something and was determined to present J Street as one of the gang.

25. The “Journolist” mail list group of 400 leftist reporters, writers, and bloggers loves J Street, and constantly expresses its admiration and devotion to the supposedly “pro-Israel” organization.  The “Journolist” group was exposed when it was learned that many members followed the advice of one of its members to attack mainstream journalists who reported on ties between firebrand Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Barack Obama as “racists” and to figuratively “throw them through a plate glass window.” When this writer wrote a detailed analysis of J Street’s Saudi and Arab American ties, at least five “Journolist” members unleashed accusations of “racism” on the same day to deflect attention away from the report and to protect J Street.

26.  Partisanship. The Obama White House likes J Street, which proudly states that it serves as “President Obama’s blocking back” on Middle East policy. Ben-Ami is a frequent visitor to the White House for consultations, according to White House visitors logs. There’s nothing wrong with that, but he did show up at the White House immediately after the U.S. and Israel appeared to have calmed tensions over Israel’s announcement of new east Jerusalem building plans. Within days, J Street published a full-page ad in the New York Times attacking Israel. According to the National Journal, aides to Senator Obama (prior to his winning the Democratic nomination) were present at a meeting to discuss the formation of J Street.

J Street’s partisanship was also evident in their endorsement of congressional candidates in 2010, several of whom have built reputations as strong critics of Israel.

Post Script

I never intended to go after J Street. For several decades I worked to protect Israel from its political enemies, and rarely did I sense danger from the Jewish Left. I welcome healthy debate within the Jewish and pro-Israeli community.

J Street was a different “left”; when it was launched I perceived it as a threat to Israel. I grew up in Washington, D.C., and started working on Capitol Hill when I was still a teen. I had developed an early and finely tuned bullshit detector, and J Street set off all my alarms from its start.  It reminded me of a Senate staffer from Oklahoma who in the 1980s grilled me on the “Who is a Jew” debate in Israel. What could be his interest in the issue? He wasn’t Jewish, his boss came from a state with few Jews, and the senator was considered unfriendly by Israel’s supporters on the Hill. “He’s seeking to justify his anti-Israel positions,” a Hill expert explained to me. “If friends of Israel in America were disappointed with Israel, he’d have political cover.”

That defines J Street today. Critical of Israel, it gives cover to Israel’s foes and even accepts their funding with impunity. And now we know that J Street, through its affiliation with the Ben-Or PR company, coordinates the messages from Israel’s loudest detractors.