The Continuing Demise of J-Street: Good Riddance to an Anti-Israel Organization
J-Street, the pro-Arab lobby which masquerades as a pro-Israel peace lobby, is in a lot of trouble. Each day it seems to get worse, putting J-Street’s lobbying efforts in the vicinity of Enron-style deception. As The Washington Post acknowledged yesterday, its claim that the group received no money from billionaire philanthropist George Soros has been exposed as false. As Dan Eggen put it in his report, “confidential tax records mistakenly made public by the Internal Revenue Service seemed to undermine those characterizations - causing a major public relations problem for the fledgling group, which has enjoyed regular access to the White House and senior Obama administration officials. The tax records, which were discovered by the conservative Washington Times newspaper, showed that Soros and his family had contributed $245,000 to J Street in 2008, and J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami acknowledged that the group has received $500,000 more since then as part of a three-year gift.”
Now that the truth has come out, its chief Jeremy Ben-Ami is trying to find the best way to spin J-Street’s lies. This is what he now says: “"I said Mr. Soros did not help launch J Street or provide its initial funding, and that is true. I also said we would be happy to take his support. But I did not go the extra step to add that he did in fact start providing support in the fall of 2008, six months after our launch." And, he adds, “I'm thrilled to have him as a supporter.”
In fact, as Eli Lake’s story- which should win him a Pulitzer Prize if there is true justice-pointed out the group’s web-site had a now gone section “of the website called ‘myths and facts,’ the group includes a passage that reads: ‘George Soros very publicly stated his decision not to be engaged in J Street when it was launched — precisely out of fear that his involvement would be used against the organization.’After Mr. Ben Ami spoke with The Times, the website was abruptly amended Thursday night with an addition that stated: ‘J Street has said it doesn’t receive money from George Soros, but now news reports indicate that he has in fact contributed.’”
What a truly Orwellian way to spin a lie! Instead of admitting their purposeful obfuscation, they write about themselves in the third person, as if the news story was talking about some other organization, and they have the chutzpah to say that “news reports indicate” that Soros was funding J-Street. Hey J-Street, we all know that your directors knew all the time where the money was coming from, and your statements are so embarrassing to read that it is no wonder many in Congress who lent you their name are now asking to be taken off the list as supporters.
That admission, however, only makes things worse. A few years ago, in the first speech Soros ever gave to a group of Jewish philanthropists, Soros made banner headlines when he said on November 6 in 2003, that “When asked about anti-Semitism in Europe, Soros, who is Jewish, said European anti-Semitism is the result of the policies of Israel and the United States.” Soros elaborated and “explained” that “There is a resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe. The policies of the Bush administration and the Sharon administration contribute to that.”
The response from major Jewish leaders, including many who heard him speak, was immediate. As the JTA reported at the time, “ ‘Let's understand things clearly: Anti-Semitism is not caused by Jews; it's caused by anti-Semites,’ said Elan Steinberg, senior advisor at the World Jewish Congress. ‘One can certainly be critical of Bush policy or Sharon policy, but any deviation from the understanding of the real cause of anti-Semitism is not merely a disservice, but a historic lie.’”
And Michael Steinhardt, the Jewish millionaire and philanthropist who arranged Soros’ talk, sarcastically said to the audience, “George Soros does not think Jews should be hated any more than they deserve to be.”
So the question is a simple one to ask Ben-Ami: Why should J-Street or any pro-Israel group want someone like George Soros to back their group financially? And why should Soros, given his pronounced anti-Israel views, be anxious to support a group that claims it is pro-Israel? Could he actually have a better appreciation of what J-Street stands for than many of those who have illusions about their agenda?
And now, yet another effort by J-Street has emerged to blacken its reputation, once again from the wonderful reporting of Eli Lake, in an article co-authored with Ben Birnbaum. The two journalists now report that J-Street “facilitated meetings between members of Congress and South African Judge Richard Goldstone, author of a U.N. report that accused the Jewish state of systematic war crimes in its three-week military campaign against Hamas in Gaza.” They also reported that the recent resignation from the group of Collette Avital, “a former member of Israel's parliament, from the center-left Labor Party 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.’”
Avital told them “When Judge Goldstone came to Washington, [J Street leaders were] suggesting that they might help him set up his appointments on Capitol Hill.” This attempt to help Goldstone reach members of Congress took place while the Chairman and ranking members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee were circulating a bi-partisan resolution condemning the report which bore his name.
Realizing the damage to an ostensibly pro-Israel group that was trying to help Goldstone gain access to Congress, in a one-sided report that slandered the IDF and accused Israel’s armed forces of deliberately targeting civilians in the air and ground war in Gaza, Ben-Ami once again has attempted to deny his organization’s actions, in a statement that in fact made it quite clear the Washington Times report was accurate.
Ben-Ami told the paper that “J Street did not host, arrange or facilitate any visit to Washington, D.C., by Judge Richard Goldstone.” But he went on to say “J Street staff spoke to colleagues at the organizations coordinating the meetings and, at their behest, reached out to a handful of congressional staff to inquire whether members would be interested in seeing Judge Goldstone.”
In other words, a distinction without a difference. Ben-Ami added: “We believed it to be a good idea for him and for members of Congress to meet personally, but we declined to play a role in hosting, convening or attending any of the meetings.” So, they thought it a good idea, spoke to colleagues about trying to see if members of Congress would meet with him, but did not play a role in the meetings. This is indeed a nice example of double-talk.
The Lake-Birnbaum report also went on to reveal that one of J-Street’s top officers, Morton J. Halperin, who happens to be President of Soros’ Open Society Institute, did play a major role in suggesting to Goldstone that he meet with Congress if possible. In addition, the so-called dovish Daniel Levy, a J-Street co-founder, arranged meetings for Goldstone at the New America Foundation for policy experts and wonks, at which some from Congress took part. (They did not identify who showed up from Congress.)
Obviously under extreme pressure from her former J-Street colleagues, Collette Avital has now released a statement saying “About Goldstone I am very firm, I don't know anything about J Street organizing things in the United States. There may have been disagreements about how we each saw the Goldstone Report. I never mentioned that they organized these things for Goldstone.”
But the authors of the article, and the Washington Times, firmly stand behind their article. Eli Lake told me in an e-mail that “We totally stand by the story.” The paper points out that the two authors have an audio tape of their interview with Avital, that totally contradict her latest change of story. The reason she and J-Street parted ways, she told them, is because they did not see eye to eye on Israel. She told Lake and Birnbaum: “I really don't want to speak about my agreements or disagreements with them. Honestly, I think they have enough problems as it is.”
And that last line is finally, the real truth. With these kind of “problems” emerging with each passing day, one question rises to the forefront: Does anyone really think J-Street has Israel’s real interests at heart, and that it has anything left to say?
Update: 3:45 pm est
The Washington Times has just posted the audio of Ben Birnbaum's interview with Collette Avital, which confirms that she has lied in her retraction to her original statement re Goldstone. As Jeffrey Goldberg writes on his blog (he has the link) "Unfortunately for Avital, and for J Street, the reporter who interviewed Avital by telephone, Ben Birnbaum, recorded their conversation, and The Washington Times has posted the audio. The recording shows that Avital was quoted accurately, and more than that: It shows that it was Avital, and not Birnbaum, who first raised the subject of Goldstone."
Goldberg also explains why Ben-Ami felt that he had to lie to his own group: "On one level, I understand what is happening here: J Street is made up of liberal Zionists, as well as non-Zionists, and even a few anti-Zionists, and it has been difficult for it to please its differing constituencies. This is why Ben-Ami, its president, might have felt the need to cover-up the involvement of George Soros, because liberal supporters of Israel know that Soros is unfriendly to the Jewish state, and some, presumably, would not want to be part of a group that counted Soros as a prominent supporter. But on another level, what is going on here is inexplicable, and terribly dispiriting to people who thought that J Street was going to make a useful contribution to the debate over the future of Israel."
Unlike Goldberg, I had no illusions about J-Street's raison d'etre. The only ones fooled, as usual, were the usual gullible liberals who still support or claim to support Israel. Peter Beinart, are you learning from this?