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Monday, November 23, 2009
Lenny Ben-David: The hoopla surrounding the upstart lobby J Street doesn't translate into instant political clout.

J Street Fails Its Fans
Posted By Lenny Ben-David On November 22, 2009
On November 3, the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to support
Resolution 838 calling on the president and the secretary of state "to
oppose unequivocally any endorsement or further consideration of the 'Report
of the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict' [a.k.a. the
Goldstone Report] in multilateral fora."

The vote was 344 to 36, with 22 representatives copping out with a "present"
vote and 30 not voting. I assumed, probably like other Washington observers,
that the 36 members, who by their vote supported Goldstone's anti-Israel
report, were members who had accepted political contributions from J Street's
political action committee. After all, the upstart organization had just
completed their much ballyhooed conference in Washington, sent their
delegates to lobby on Capitol Hill, and had expressed strong reservations
about the congressional resolution.

To be fair, J Street didn't come out with a blatant declaration of
opposition to the resolution. It just called for the passage of "a balanced,
thoughtful Congressional resolution" or "amendment of the resolution before
passage to bring it in line with the principles we articulate." As one of J
Street's blogger allies wrote [1]:

"Members of Congress close to AIPAC introduced a resolution condemning
the Goldstone report that is so one-sided it might have been drafted by the
Likud Central Committee. J Street did not waste a moment. It issued a
statement that it would not support the resolution."

J Street's opposition [2] couldn't have been clearer.

J Street takes great pride in their upstart political action committee [3].
"The PAC distributed over $578,000 to its candidates," J Street's website
crows. "[That's] more than any other pro-Israel PAC in the two-year cycle,
despite only launching publicly in April 2008."

[NB: That $578,000 distributed was out of more than $840,000 raised,
according to Federal Election Commission records.]

Since that election cycle, J Street's PAC boasted contributions in 2009 of
more than $30,000 to Representative Donna Edwards of Maryland and $35,000 to
Steve Cohen of Tennessee.

Those PAC contributions translate to political clout, right?

Absolutely wrong.

In the case of the Goldstone vote, not one of the top 10 J Street PAC
recipients in the 2008 cycle voted against the pro-Israel resolution, and
some of those candidates (Mary Jo Kilroy of Ohio, Gary Peters of Michigan,
Debbie Halvorson of Illinois, and Steve Cohen) had received as much as [4]
$30,000 to $47,000. Only Donna Edwards, the J Street darling for whom the
organization ran a special appeal in 2009, voted against the resolution.
Others who voted with Edwards included Arab-American representatives,
congressional gadflies such as Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich, and a handful
of representatives who are long-time critics of Israel.

What explains J Street's inability to garner their troops? First, and
certainly foremost, is the fact that support for Israel in the American
public and Congress remains high. Despite the paeans to J Street written by
the New York Times or Mother Jones, most members of Congress apparently do
not buy into J Street's "pro-Israel" claim. Witness the many members who
peeled off of the J Street conference's host committee, or who simply didn't
show up at its dinner.

For all the hoopla, J Street is undefined. Except for its director, Jeremy
Ben-Ami, its top leadership and decision-makers are anonymous. Who does
Ben-Ami consult with before he decides on a controversial policy such as
opposing sanctions against Iran? Only the occasional exposť reveals funding
from unusual sources (Saudi-connected individuals, National Iranian American
Council (NIAC) directors, Arab-American leaders) or the fact that J Street
co-founder Mort Halperin, an aide to George Soros, ghostwrote Richard
Goldstone's defense of his report that he sent to congressional offices.

J Street remains mysterious. Who are its major funders? So far, only its
political action committee contribution list is open to the public, and the
names and backgrounds of some of the donors raise questions about the PAC's
motives. The fact that many have Arabic surnames is not the issue; their
background of defaming Israel or defending Hamas or working for Saudi Arabia

Even after its conference J Street remains indefinable. Its student
component wants to drop the "pro-Israel" claim. Some of its delegates argue
for a one-state solution that would dissolve or destroy Israel. J Street
claims to reflect positions of the Israeli Kadima party and Israel's peace
camp, but when Israelis such as former Kadima minister Meir Sheetrit or
former general and leader of the peace camp Danny Rothschild discovered that
J Street opposes sanctions against Iran, they distanced themselves from J

Finally, J Street lacks direction. Jeremy Ben-Ami told the New York Times in
September that J Street's "No. 1 agenda item is to do whatever we can in
Congress to act as the president's blocking back." But a blocker must know
what play was called by the quarterback, Barack Obama. Coming into office,
Obama and his aides may have had an ideological goal line in the Middle East
that became J Street's playbook. Indeed, there are reports of Obama's aides
being present at the formation of J Street, then called the "Soros Project."

Once in office, however, Obama found the conditions on the field to be
different from what he thought, and, the good politician that he is, he
changed the plays. But in J Street's case, it ran so far downfield on the
issues of settlements, Hamas, Goldstone, and Iranian sanctions that it isn't
relevant to the game. Its ties to NIAC and to questionable funders may
actually make it an "ineligible receiver downfield." And the conclusion is
that it is certainly not a "pro-Israel" team.

So what do the J Street blockers do in such a situation? Re-huddle and run
the play called by the quarterback? Not if you listen to one of J Street's
staunchest fans, MJ Rosenberg, a radical defamer of Israel, who recently
criticized quarterback Obama for lacking "the will to take the actions J
Street wants to support." The J Street players should bully the president,
Rosenberg wrote: "After all, supporting Obama's policies doesn't mean
anything if Obama's policies are weak or inconsistent. Unfortunately, right
now, Obama seems unwilling to push hard [5] for his own policies."

With such players and fans, it's no wonder members of Congress and American
Jews don't want to play on the team. And at some point candidates and donors
may conclude that there are better investments than J Street's PAC, whose
records are open and available [6] to all on the internet for public

Article printed from Pajamas Media: http://pajamasmedia.com

URL to article: http://pajamasmedia.com/blog/j-street-fails-its-fans/

URLs in this post:

[1] wrote: http://www.jstreet.org/blog/?p=702

[2] opposition: http://www.worldpress.org/Mideast/3448.cfm

[3] political action committee: http://jstreetpac.org/pac/2008

[4] received as much as: http://jstreetpac.org/pac/2008-endorsed-candidates

[5] unwilling to push hard:

[6] open and available: http://query.nictusa.com/cgi-bin/fecimg/?C00441949

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