Taking J Street to task

A new critical documentary takes on the American lobbying group that professes to be pro-peace and pro-Israel.

Livni at 2013 J Street conference 370 (photo credit: YouTube Screenshot/J Street)
Livni at 2013 J Street conference 370
(photo credit: YouTube Screenshot/J Street)
Halfway through J Street Challenge, the organization’s leader Jeremy Ben-Ami is shown detailing a laundry list of Jewish establishment organizations; the Conference of Presidents, American Jewish Committee, Jewish Federations and Jewish Community Relations Council, and calling them a “multi-headed hydra.” This goes to the heart of the argument made in the documentary released February 17: J Street is a deceptive organization that is fundamentally opposed to the interests of Israel and its supports in the American Jewish community.
This new critical documentary is being released by the conservative Americans for Peace and Tolerance and produced by Avi Goldwasser, who was previously involved with The David Project and other films, including a profile of Jewish refugees from Arab countries. The premise is that we have become inured to the lobbying group J Street’s mantra, since its founding in 2008, that they are pro-peace and pro-Israel. Bringing in boiler-plate pro-Israel views, such as noting that Israel is surrounded by 22 hostile Arab regimes, and that Palestinian politicians often say one thing in English and another thing in Arabic, this video seeks to pick apart, piece by piece, the J Street agenda.
In the one-sided argument the film builds, J Street officials are seen as being either naive or purposely deceptive in relating to the Palestinian leadership. The narrator notes: “J Street trusts the Palestinian leadership to negotiate in good faith.” Naomi Chazan, a former MK and leader of the New Israel Fund, notes that the current Palestinian leadership is the “most amenable group of leaders Israel has had.” Jabril Rajoub, currently head of the Palestine Olympic Committee, is then shown supporting peace, but on April 30, 2013 on an Arabic television show Al-Mayadeen, he says, “we don’t yet have a nuke, but I swear that if we had a nuke, we’d have used it this very morning.”
The main revelation is primarily the compilation a long list of evidence in one place that impugns J Street’s claims. For instance, the film notes that those who support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement have received a welcome mat. In addition the narrator asserts that “in the 2012 congressional elections J Street supported [US Congressional] representatives it claims are pro-Israel.” Yet they argue that one of those supported, John Dingell from Michigan, was one of only two Congressmen to vote against a cooperation bill with Israel that was voted on in Congress.
Jerusalem Post columnist Caroline Glick notes in her interview that “they are trying to erode that wall-to-wall support Israel enjoys among the American people and among politicians in Washington.”
The documentary is an inviting blend of young pro-Israel activists, such as Miri Kornfeld of StandwithUs, and veterans such as Alan Dershowitz, and is sure to appeal to a Jewish audience. Whether they will be receptive to it, given the barrage of Israel-related content, is questionable, since the hour-long format seems slightly long for young people today who seek short clips with talking points.
However the film’s main strength is that it raises serious questions about J Street’s agenda. For instance, one interviewee, Noah Pollak, an eloquent speaker from the Emergency Committee for Israel, claims that J Street seeks to put the blame solely on Israel, saying, “If this conflict is all about the stuff that we did wrong to them, it is empowering because it means we can solve it.”
Harvard scholar Ruth Wisse goes further: “they align themselves on the Arab side.”