J Street, Not Up Our Alley

Rep. Gary Ackerman and Former Prime Minister of Israel Ehud Olmert. Source: Life.com

In January, Representative Gary Ackerman, a Jewish Democrat from New York’s Fifth Congressional District, issued a harsh and clear rebuke of the political organization J-Street. Ackerman assured his constituents, “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.” J-Street PAC endorsed Congressman Ackerman in his 2010 campaign for reelection. However, after the left-wing organization suggested President Obama not veto a United Nations resolution condemning Israel, Ackerman decided he had had enough. “I’ve come to the conclusion that J-Street is not an organization with which I wish to be associated,” Ackerman said.

The following morning, J-Street sent an email to supporters in response to Congressman Ackerman. The day before this email, J-Street was thankful of Mr. Ackerman “For his tireless work in foreign policy and his commitment to the pro-Israel, pro-peace movement”. But, they declared, “We are sad and disappointed that the Congressman lacks the courage of his convictions on this issue.” It seems J-Street no longer believes Representative Ackerman is “pro-Israel, pro-peace” solely because he no longer seeks to be associated with the organization.

Ackerman has noticed an ongoing trend evident in J-Street’s policy decisions, donor core, and leadership actions. It is likely that additional high profile policy makers will follow in Ackerman’s footsteps, and it is politically and globally intelligible that they do so.

J-Street, which claims in its motto to be “pro-Israel, pro-peace” has done little to help and much to hurt the American-Israel alliance since the organization’s founding in 2008. On April 14, 2010, former Member of Knesset Yossi Sarid (Meretz) spoke for J-Street in an open, full-page letter to Holocaust survivor and cultural giant Elie Wiesel.

Sarid wrote condescendingly, calling Wiesel his “dear friend” as he unconstructively criticized Wiesel’s well-respected words on Jerusalem. Sarid accused Wiesel of undercutting and tying President Obama’s hands. J-Street called the letter “excellent.”

Almost immediately after the letter was released, President Obama altered his schedule to invite Mr. Wiesel to a kosher lunch at the White House, acknowledging J-Street’s blunder and that without Wiesel’s support, his Middle Eastern policy goals faced almost certain doom. In a response to Sarid and an open letter to J-Street Founder and Executive Director Jeremy Ben-Ami, mega-Rabbi Shmule Boteach declared, “You might as well take out full pages ads savaging Nelson Mandela, Mother Theresa, and the Dalai Lama.”

But, if this was not enough, in September 2010 it was made public that approximately 1/3 of domestic J Street fundraising revenues have been directly or indirectly from George Soros, a man who is hardly recognized as “pro-Israel, pro-peace.” Shortly after this was made public, the organization has endorsed a United Nations resolution placing total blame for settlement issues on Israel. This hardly represents the majority view of the American people. The adoption of such a resolution would be a painful slight toward our Israeli allies and would only further strain relations.

In 2010, three of three U.S. Senate candidates endorsed by J-Street PAC lost their elections. Likewise, 24% of J-Street PAC endorsed candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives lost their elections. Accepting J-Street endorsements has been proven to be bad politics.

While many pro-Israel organizations have flaws, there is little question that J-Street’s actions and motives are not good for the State of Israel (or the United States of America). It is clear that high profile office holders who allow themselves to be associated with J-Street do so at significant political peril. That this is true is because of J-Street public relations disasters, donor history nightmares, and policy bungles. Moreover, those endorsed by J-Street PAC in 2010 should consider denouncing J-Street, as Mr. Ackerman has, and those offered endorsements by J-Street PAC in 2012 should unwaveringly refuse.

The special relationship between the United States and Israel is of great mutual benefit. While Israel is often found in precarious situations, it is fundamental that the United States stands by the Jewish State in the face of criticism. Israel is, against great odds, a thriving democracy in the Middle East and represents a serious partner in any negotiations toward peace. United Nations condemnation of the State of Israel is retroactive to the process; and Americans who support such a resolution act in the best interest of neither the U.S.-Israel relationship nor the peace process.

To this end, I was somewhat surprised that the GU College Democrats have co-sponsored “Israel Issue Week” with Georgetown’s chapter of J Street U. J Street U is the collegiate J Street movement, quickly spreading across the country promoting an agenda that is decreasingly in line with key Democratic Party principles. Until J Street can act appropriately and in accordance with Democratic Party principles, it does not seem worthwhile to have the GU College Democrats working so closely alongside the organization in political events and affairs.

Interesting article by Danny Gordis about his experiences with J Street in Israel, found here.

David Finkelstein