WASHINGTON – J Street’s opposition to a congressional letter criticizing
Palestinian incitement has led more members to sign on, according to Hill
sources tracking the issue.
The letter to US President Obama, written by
Rep. Steve Rothman (D-New Jersey) and Rep. Steve Austria (R-Ohio) in the wake of
the Itamar murders, charges that “Palestinian incitement continues and there is
almost no effort by them to promote coexistence and peace.”
Borderline Views: At the corner of J Street and the future
It calls for
the White House to “do everything possible to urge [Palestinian Authority]
President [Mahmoud] Abbas to root out terrorism, return to negotiations without
preconditions, earnestly work toward peace with Israel, and slam the door on any
effort to deal with final status issues at the United Nations.”
response, J Street sent an email to members of the US House urging them not to
sign it and issued a statement attacking the its contents as “containing
material omissions and misrepresentations of fact and presenting a biased and
The statement specifically criticizes the letter for
not acknowledging the PA leadership’s efforts to end incitement and blaming
incitement for the impasse in peace talks.
“Contrary to the letter’s
accusations, the current Palestinian Authority leadership has taken great
political risks and shown real willingness to end the conflict,” J Street
While the letter was originally circulated only among members of
the House Foreign Affairs Committee and House appropriations foreign operations
subcommittee, J Street’s email was circulated more widely and prompted many
additional representatives to express interest in the letter. A final count
isn’t yet available because the deadline for signatures has not yet
“J Street’s opposition to the Rothman-Austria letter has only
increased the willingness of members to sign on. It begs the question of what
are J Street’s goals,” said one congressional staffer. “If J Street’s goals are
to have fewer people sign onto the letter, they’ve already failed.”
Street Vice President of Policy and Strategy Hadar Susskind, however, said the
organization’s email action was motivated first and foremost by the principle of
responding to the letter’s content.
“We sent it based on the policy we
saw in [the letter],” he explained. “What people do with it is up to
The Rothman-Austria letter is circulating days after J Street
lobbied for a letter by Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Illinois) to US President Barack
Obama calling for maintaining aid to Israel and the Palestinian Authority as
well as continued engagement in the peace process.
That letter, the
centerpiece of 200 office visits conducted by grassroots activists in town for
the J Street convention, was sent to the White House on Friday with 116
signatures. House Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Howard Berman, as
well as pro-Israel stalwarts Henry Waxman (D-California) and Jerrold Nadler
(D-New York), were among the signatories.
The tally represents an
all-time high for a letter lobbied by J Street, according to the organization,
with nearly 60 percent of House Democrats and one Republican signing
Susskind attributed the unprecedented backing to “a combination of
both the continuing growth of J Street, our presence on the Hill and in
community and the rest of it, as well as the content of the
“This is a very solid effort,” said one aide to a Democratic
congressman who did not sign the letter because of its wording and the number of
members who backed it. But he added that the main points of the letter were ones
many more Democrats on Capitol Hill embrace than those who signed
“This is a letter the vast majority of Democrats should have signed
onto,” he assessed, blaming the “toxic” nature of the J Street brand for
alienating would-be supporters of the letter.
“Rightly or wrongly some
members of Congress do kind of a give a more critical eye to any policy
statements coming out of J Street because of what they’ve heard of J Street,”
said another Democratic staffer.
“There are probably a higher number of
members of Congress who would agree with the content of the letter than have
signed it,” he continued. “I think that J Street has given ammunition to people
who want to criticize them, and in other cases it might be unfair.”
Hill worker pointed to J Street’s opposition to the Rothman- Austria letter as
the kind of move that could alienate members who might otherwise support many of
J Street’s positions.
“When you go after a liberal Jewish Democrat who is
still supportive of the Obama administration, other members see that attack as
an indicator that they could be next,” he said. “This is just the latest example
of J Street being reckless with relationships on the Hill.”
declined to respond to the anonymous attacks, but he expressed satisfaction with
the results the three-year-old organization got on the aid letter.
very happy with the number of people on the it,” he said.
“It’s a great
list of people who support aid to Israel, aid to the Palestinians and American
leadership in the region.”