This weekend J Street is launching its first major convention at which it claims 160 members of Congress and a number of former Israeli left-wing politicians will participate. Only 18 months old, J Street already boasts of a $3 million budget which, while minuscule compared to AIPAC's $70 million, is nevertheless impressive. It also receives glowing liberal media coverage, especially from The New York Times.
American Jews take pride in being an open and pluralistic community. So why make a fuss about an organization, even if it does engage in activities that many would consider offensive? Besides, blackballing such a fringe group would lead to accusations of attempting to stifle freedom of expression and transform it into a martyr.
However, the fact is that no one is seeking to deny freedom of expression to J Street or other groups hostile to Israel. The issue is whether organizations should be able to exploit the Jewish community as launching pads to campaign against the Jewish state while presenting themselves as mainstream Jews.
Most Jews would concur that a red line should be drawn between legitimate criticism of Israel and concerted campaigns to pressure the US or any government to force the democratically elected government of Israel to make concessions which could imperil the lives of its citizens.
J Street has crossed that red line even though it continuously recites the mantra that it is "pro-Israel," insisting that while it "disagrees with certain Israeli government policies our bottom line is that we always support the State of Israel and its future as a democracy."
Or to quote executive director Jeremy Ben-Ami "we are trying to define what it means to be pro Israel... you don't have to adopt the party line."
Yet J Street has the chutzpa to openly campaign against Israel on the grounds that it possesses a superior understanding of what is best for Israelis. It obscenely spins this by likening itself to parents who are obliged to employ "tough love" with children who are drug addicts. It is surely unconscionable for Jews resident in America to lobby their government to pressure Israelis, contrary to their will, to take steps that could have life and death implications.
In fact, J Street's policies are more extreme than even their radical Israeli counterparts. During the conflict with Hamas, which was endorsed by all Jewish political parties in the Knesset, J Street proclaimed that Israel's "escalation in Gaza would be counterproductive" and was "disproportionate." It also alluded to a moral equivalency between the policies of Israel and Hamas, stating that it found difficulty in distinguishing "between who is right and who is wrong" and "picking a side."
Rabbi Eric Yoffie, head of the US Reform movement (who inexplicably will now be participating in the J Street convention) then described J Street's views as "deeply distressing, morally deficient and profoundly out of touch with Jewish sentiment and appallingly naÃ¯ve."
J Street also "opposes the role of force by Israel or the United States" against Iran and even canvassed Congress to block a bipartisan resolution calling for tougher sanctions. It also urges the US and Israel to negotiate with Hamas. Despite President Barack Obama having done so, J Street chief Ben-Ami refused to endorse Israel as a "Jewish state" relating to it as a "Jewish democratic home in the State of Israel."
J Street also raises the issue of dual loyalties which has been resurrected by anti-Semites in recent times. Ben-Ami expresses concern about "the impact of Israeli policies on our interests as Americans and Jews," suggesting that continued "blind" support for Israel would lead to alienation from the American public which would conclude that Jews display greater loyalty to Israel than America.
J Street raised similar sentiments when it defended Obama's initial choice of Chas Freeman, the fiercely anti-Israeli former ambassador to Saudi Arabia, to become chairman of the National Intelligence Council. Not coincidentally, Stephen Walt the coauthor of the viciously anti-Israeli The Israel Lobby and Foreign Policy publicly hailed the emergence of J Street as "good news."
An even more ominous cause for concern was the recent disclosure that Arab and even pro Iranian elements were funding J Street. One donor and member of the organization's finance committee, Genevieve Lynch, was a participant of the National Iranian American Council. Judith Barnett, a former registered agent for Saudi Arabia, is a donor and serves on the J Street Advisory Council. Nancy Dutton, until 2008 an attorney for the Saudi Arabian Embassy, donates to J Street's political action committee which has been financing anti-Israeli congressional candidates.
IN SHORT, J Street has established a virtually consistent track record of hostility against Israel. One has yet to see it release a single statement backing Israel on any substantive issue. It vigorously campaigns to pressure the US government to be "tough" and force Israel to make unilateral concessions. It financially supports the election of anti-Israeli congressmen and raises the specter of dual loyalties. It continuously defames mainstream Jewish organizations, depicting them as extremists. It receives financial support and praise from Arabs and foes of Israel. To suggest that such an organization is "pro-Israel" is utterly preposterous.
Today Israel is undergoing a critical phase in its relationship with the US. The pressures on the Jewish state are not limited to calls to freeze settlements. In the aftermath of the toxic Goldstone report, Israelis travelling abroad may now face the threat of prosecution. Israel also faces the challenge of defining defensible borders and addressing the danger of a nuclear Iran. In these and other existential challenges, Israel is largely dependent on US support which J Street seeks to undermine.
There is no doubt that the vast majority of committed Jews are outraged by a Jewish organization whose principal raison d'Ãªtre is to lobby the US to act harshly against Israel. The limited support J Street enjoys comes principally from those uninvolved in Jewish life. Indeed, Ben-Ami even told The New York Times that his members are comprised primarily of intermarried youngsters who attend "Buddhist Seders." That probably explains why J Street could endorse the staging of the contemporary anti-Semitic blood libel play Seven Jewish Children.
No one seeks to deny Israeli bashers freedom of expression. But there is a need to make the public aware that J Street represents an insignificant group of uncommitted Jews. It must be exposed as hostile to Israel and marginalized from the Jewish community. If Americans understand this, J Street's ability to undermine Israel will largely be neutralized.