J Street under fire after attempting to aid Goldstone

Ben-Ami: Appearance of unfavorable stories is part of concerted effort to undermine J Street and its message at a critical time in negotiations.

By GIL STERN STERN SHEFLER
October 3, 2010 02:12
3 minute read.
The J Street Web site

j street website 311. (photo credit: www.jstreet.org)

Critics of J Street rebuked the dovish advocacy group on Friday after it emerged it had considered facilitating meetings between Judge Richard Goldstone and congressmen.

The Washington Times reported on Thursday that J Street approached several US lawmakers in November 2009 asking whether they would be interested in meeting the author of the UN report on the war in Gaza, to ask him questions on his findings.

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J Street founder and director Jeremy Ben-Ami told The Jerusalem Post on Friday that his staff had made “two or three” such phone calls to US politicians and relayed their response onward. However, he stressed that after those initial inquiries were made, his organization decided not to become involved because of Israel’s attitude toward Goldstone.

“J Street did not host, arrange or facilitate Judge Richard Goldstone’s visit,” Ben-Ami said.

Israel strongly condemned the September 2009 Goldstone Report, which accused it of committing war crimes during the 2008/2009 conflict with Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Most US Jewish organizations, such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the American Jewish Committee, successfully lobbied Congress to pass a resolution condemning Goldstone’s findings.

However, J Street advocated a nuanced response to the report, calling it unfair and unbalanced but refusing to denounce it outright. It also argued, alongside some Israeli politicians, that the Jewish state would have been better served had it cooperated with the probe.

David Harris, the executive director of the American Jewish Committee, said on Friday that J Street’s contact with Goldstone, coupled with last week's revelation that it received funds from billionaire George Soros, an outspoken critic of Israeli policies on a number of occasions, undermined its stated mission of supporting the Jewish state.

“J Street has every right, of course, to express its viewpoint and lobby in Washington,” Harris wrote in an email. “But it arrogates to itself the right, from thousands of miles away, to determine what’s best for democratic Israel.

“In doing so, it espouses positions – e.g., ambiguity on the toxic Goldstone Report or prolonged hesitation to support legislative sanctions against a nuclear-aspiring Iran which seeks a world without Israel – that can only make one wonder what exactly it means, beyond the glib tag line, to be ‘pro- Israel.’” Journalist Jeffrey Goldberg, an influential commentator on Israeli and Jewish affairs for The Atlantic, was even more critical of J Street in his blog.

“Ben-Ami, its president, might have felt the need to cover up the involvement of George Soros, because liberal supporters of Israel know that Soros is unfriendly to the Jewish state, and some, presumably, would not want to be part of a group that counted Soros as a prominent supporter,” he wrote. “But on another level, what is going on here is inexplicable, and terribly dispiriting to people who thought that J Street was going to make a useful contribution to the debate over the future of Israel.”

Ben-Ami said in response that the report regarding his group’s contact with Goldstone was full of inaccuracies. For instance, the Washington Times reported that former Labor MK Colette Avital had resigned from J Street in protest of the said talks between J Street and Goldstone. In fact, Ben-Ami said, Avital is still working with J Street and the change in her job description had nothing to do with Goldstone.

Ben-Ami said the appearance of two unfavorable stories about J Street in the Washington Times over the past week were part of a concerted effort by the right-wing media to undermine his organization and its message at a critical period of time in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.


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