New pro-Israel PAC endorses first congressional candidates

New JStreetPAC attempts to challenge established pro-Israel Political Action Committees in Washington.

j street 224.88 (photo credit: Screenshot)
j street 224.88
(photo credit: Screenshot)
The new JStreetPAC announced its first endorsements of political candidates Monday as part of its effort to challenge the established pro-Israel Political Action Committees in Washington. Jeremy Ben-Ami, the organization's executive director, declared that the endorsements, coupled with the advocacy work of the sister J Street organization, "will open up much-needed political space for honest discussion of American foreign policy and for debate over what policies are in fact in the best interests of both the United States and of Israel." He announced that seven candidates were due to receive JStreetPAC's backing, but that the organization was expected to endorse a couple of dozen congressional candidates over the course of the election cycle. Of those endorsed Monday, only two - Rep. Charles Boustany and Rep. Stephen Cohen - are sitting members of Congress, both relative newcomers to the Capitol in keeping with the group's mission to support "fresh faces." Ben-Ami said the candidates would get direct donations from the PAC - which can donate $5,000 per campaign by federal law - as well as up to $10,000 in from JStreetPAC board members through the fall. He added that the candidates would be promoted on the organization's Web site for small donors, noting that 30,000 people had already joined the group's mailing list since its April launch. Some of the more than 30 pro-Israel PACs - which feed millions of dollars to candidates around the country - have argued that those relatively modest figures won't make a dent when it comes to changing the agenda on US-Israel policy. But if focused on individual, particularly low-profile, Congressional campaigns, JStreetPAC funds could have an impact on those races. Ben-Ami said those chosen were willing "to be leaders" on the issues. Boustany, for instance - the only Republican to receive an endorsement Monday - cosponsored a resolution welcoming the Bush administration's decision to host the Annapolis conference and calling on the administration to take further steps to advance the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Asked during a media conference call whether receiving the JStreetPAC endorsement could risk harmful criticism from other more hawkish Israel supporters, Boustany brushed aside such concerns. "I don't see this as an either-or situation. I think this is a complementary situation," Boustany said. But that's not how Morris Amitay saw it. "Basically what it does is give us a good indication of who not to support," said the former AIPAC executive director and current head of the pro-Israel Washington PAC.