J Street's Troubles Began Even Before its National Conference Convenes: Could This Year be Its Swan Song?
Even before its national conference convenes on Saturday night (which I and other PJM folk will be covering and blogging about throughout the conference), J Street is facing opposition from Kadima, the Israeli centrist party headed by Tzipi Livni, because some of its members agreed to attend and speak at the event.
Writing today in the Jerusalem Post, Gil Hoffman reveals that the few who accepted the invitation to speak were told by colleagues in their own faction that “they should not be supporting the left-wing American lobby.” By putting it in this way, the opponents of participation have accurately portrayed J Street for what it is: a fringe leftist sect trying to appear as a mainstream part of American Jewish life.
Hoffman also notes that J Street was unable to get senior Israeli politicians to attend, even a minister whom Hoffman calls “the most dovish minister in the cabinet, Intelligence Services Minister Dan Meridor,” who is from Likud, PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s party.
J Street, which continually tries to assert that it is “pro-Israel and pro-peace,” is well known for opposing whatever measures the Israeli government takes to protect the country. Most recently, it refused to oppose the UN Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements. Now that the United States voted against it -- (although UN Ambassador Susan Rice undercut the meaning of the vote by explaining the administration’s reluctance and stating that “we reject in the strongest terms the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity. We view Israeli settlement activity in territories that were occupied in 1967 as undermining Israel’s security, its democracy, and hopes for peace and stability...”) -- J Street is in the position of formally opposing a decision taken by the United States delegation to the UN.
The organization had also escorted Judge Richard Goldstone around Washington, D.C., to gather support for his notoriously biased anti-Israel report, and refused to condemn the Goldstone Report, even though it accused Israel’s leaders of purposefully targeting civilians in Gaza. Most recently, as Lenny Ben-David pointed out at PJM, its founder, Jeremy Ben-Ami, has greatly compromised the group’s raison d’etre.
Among the organization’s many recent embarrassments, Ben-Ami was first discovered denying that the anti-Israel billionaire George Soros was funding the group, then reluctantly trying to spin his extensive monetary contributions after they were exposed, to finally bragging about his financial support to make it appear that they always knew about it and were proud of his role in helping them.
As Lenny Ben-David reported, J Street founder Ben-Ami co-authored an article with Trita Parsi in 2009 opposing U.S. sanctions on Iran, in favor of diplomacy. At the time, the real debate in our country was between those who supported some form of military action against Iran -- because they argued sanctions were not working and would not work -- and those who argued we should rely on sanctions alone. There were very few who took the position taken by Ben-Ami and Parsi, which was a stance that, if adopted, would have strengthened the mullahs' regime in Tehran. No wonder that, as Hoffman writes, Kadima members of the Knesset “were also upset with J Street for undermining the international effort to prevent the nuclearization of Iran."
Keep in mind that these Kadima MKs are opponents of the Netanyahu government, and want it to fall. But as MK Ze’ev Bielski told the Jerusalem Post, “this organization is doing tremendous damage to Israel.” Bielski thinks they may actually “have good intentions,” but he realizes the facts are that “they oppose an American president vetoing an anti-Israel resolution at the Security Council” and also opposed the defensive actions taken by Israeli commandos at the time of the flotilla crisis. Another MK, Shai Hermesh, added that “he could do his job of trying to topple the government while in Israel, but when he went abroad, he wouldn’t cooperate with any organization that worked against the Israeli government.”
Hermesh then said: “It is too bad that some of my colleagues do not understand the danger of supporting an organization that is working against Israel.” Another MK who is attending, Nachman Shai, defended his participation, but took offense at Ben-Ami’s claim that J Street was the equivalent of Kadima in Israel. “He can say that J Street is Kadima,” Shai put it, “but Kadima is not J Street. I am not a supporter of J Street, but I support Jews helping Israel, each in its own way.” He said he is participating because he wants to answer the questions of American young people who are critical of Israel, or else “we may lose them.” As a result, he now plans to change his prepared remarks at the J Street event by focusing on the issue of Israel’s legitimacy. He wants to defend building in Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem and the building of settlements outside of the capital.
Another MK who is attending, Yoel Hasson, said he would criticize J Street for opposing the U.S. veto at the Security Council.
So J Street, it turns out, will not be getting what it sought by inviting Kadima to their conference. Instead of support and affirmation, they will receive bold criticism.
For those of Kadima who still believe that J-Street is not left-wing and is a “legitimate organization that wants to help Israel,” as Hasson does, they will be in for a surprise. He will find that playing a big role in the conference are major opponents of both Israel policy and Israel itself, including Peter Beinart, who is actually being honored as a “hero”; Roger Cohen of The New York Times; New Israel Fund president Naomi Chazan; Bernard Avishai, whose recent cover in The New York Times Magazine story was taken apart by Sol Stern; Robert Malley, who was so controversial that the Obama administration did not let him advise on the Middle East during the 2008 campaign; Dr. Mustafa Barghouti of the Palestinian National Initiative; Ambassador Maen Areikat of the PLO delegation to the UN; the contentious critic of Israel from The Nation magazine, Eric Alterman; and the far left editor and founder of the virulent anti-Israel publication Tikkun, Michael Lerner.
As a shrewd observer of the foibles of J Street e-mailed me, it has become political poison not only for pro-Israel Democrats in Congress to align with J Street, but now it is becoming the same for pro-Israel Israeli politicians.
J Street may be getting 2000 attendees this year. It moved its conference from a hotel to the large Convention Center in D.C., but judging from the flack it is getting even before the conference starts, this could well be its swan song.
Update: 4:15 p.m., EST
A letter has just been addressed to White House advisor on the Middle East, Dennis Ross, by Noah Pollak, Executive Director of the Emergency Committee for Israel. Addressing Ross’s forthcoming plenary speech to the J-Street national conference, Pollak writes the following:
It is thus with some surprise that I learned you would be speaking at this year’s J Street conference. Speaking, that is, before a group that has worked diligently over the past three years to become a voice for weakening the U.S.-Israel alliance, for pressuring Israel to accept policies that Israeli voters have rejected as dangerous, and perhaps most important, for giving Jewish support to a global campaign of delegitimization directed against Israel and Zionism.
Pollak goes on to write about many of the speakers who have a clear and forthright view of opposition to the values for which Israel stands, as well as to the existence of Israel itself. He ends offering Ross this challenge:
There are few moments when someone with your experience and credibility is invited into the anti-Israel echo chamber and provided an opportunity to dispel myths, combat falsehoods, deliver much-needed moral clarity – and state clearly that the United States stands with Israel. I trust that you will seize this moment to explain why the Jewish State is not just one of our closest allies, but a country that fully deserves the admiration and moral support of all Americans.
I have one question. Will Ross do as Pollak suggests, or will he be bound by his administration position to offer a wishy-washy and essentially meaningless statement, that reflects the confused attitude towards J-Street of the Obama administration? We will soon find out the answer.