The Washington Jewish Week featured J Street, the self-described “pro-Israel, pro-peace” lobby in page one articles twice in April, published J Street opinion columns once that month and again in the May 16 edition, and several letters, pro as well as con, along the way.
The generally positive April 11 feature was leavened by Prof. Gil Troy of the Shalom Hartman Institute, who noted that “J Street sometimes forgets the balancebetween criticism of Israel and affirming its legitimacy.” That issue also carried a letter to the editor by Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, founding president of The Israel Project, who rebuked a former TIP staffer now at J Street for misquoting her and citing outdated studies rather than urging Palestinian leaders to pursue peace.
Unfortunately, there is much more that suggests J Street’s self-portrait deserves closer scrutiny.
Rabbi Daniel Gordis, winner of the 2009 National Jewish Book Award for Saving Israel: How the Jewish State Can Win a War That May Never End, challenged the group in 2011. He recalled that J Street lobbied Congress against a resolution condemning Palestinian incitement; that the organization immediately called for a cease-fire in December, 2008 when Israeli forces attacked the Gaza Strip to counter years of rocket fire; and that J Street had invited representatives from the anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions movement to one of its annual conferences.
Rabbi Eric Yoffie, past president of the Union for Reform Judaism, told J Street its implied equivalence of Palestinian terrorism and Israeli self-defense during the December 2008-January 2009 “Operation Cast Lead” was “morally deficient, profoundly out of touch with Jewish sentiment and also appallingly naive.”
J Street started under a self-induced cloud: For several years it denied that its founding funder was billionaire George Soros.
Why the falsehood? Perhaps because Soros is on record blaming Israel as a key factor in the Arab world’s problems. Perhaps because he has been critical of the success of AIPAC, the largest, most influential pro-Israel lobby. Maybe because Soros, a Jewish Holocaust survivor, has said he feels distant from the idea of Jewish peoplehood.
Jeremy Ben-Ami, J Street president, defended former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) from charges of being anti-Israel when he was nominated as secretary of defense. WJW reported that Ben-Ami feared Hagel would be smeared for his remark, “the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people” in Congress.
But Hagel’s “Jewish lobby” comment was hardly his most disturbing. With Palestinian
terrorists blowing up Israeli buses at the height of the second Intifada, Hagel declared in 2002 that “Israel must take steps to show its commitment to peace.”
He opposed not only military action against Iran’s presumed nuclear weapons program but also unilateral American economic sanctions. In 2000, he was one of only four senators not to sign a letter to President Clinton affirming U.S. solidarity with Israel in the face of Palestinian aggression.
In a 2011 Washington Post op-ed, Ben-Ami urged Israel “to proactively take bold, even risky, steps to establish a state of Palestine based on the pre-1967 lines with land swaps.” Ben-Ami’s recommendation, as this writer argued in reply, was as if Israel hadn’t done just that in 2000, 2001 and 2008, as if Palestinian leaders didn’t reject each proposal, the first two times with violence.
In 2010, Elie Wiesel placed full-page advertisements in major newspapers criticizing President Obama’s opposition to housing construction for Jews in eastern Jerusalem. J Street countered with ads attacking Wiesel.
In 2011, after the slaughter of five membersof a Jewish family in a West Bank settlement, four dozen members of Congress sent a letter to President Obama condemning the Palestinian culture of hatred that “damages prospects” for peace and “encourages terrorism.” J Street lobbied against the letter.
That year, Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.), learning of J Street’s call for the Obama administration not to veto a U.N. Security Council resolution that would blame only
Israel for the Israeli-Palestinian stalemate, said “America really does need a smart,
credible, politically active organization that is as aggressively pro-peace as it is pro-Israel. Unfortunately, J Street ain’t it.”
The pro-Israel tent is big. But, J Street’s glittering generalities aside, it’s not made of Silly Putty.
Eric Rozenman is Washington director of CAMERA, the 65,000-member, Bostonbased Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America. Any opinions expressed
above are solely those of the author.