J Street’s a crooked road

The organization succeeded in identifying a leftist constituency looking for a voice in Washington. But ‘The Washington Times’ exposé is so devastating to its credibility and standing that its constituency needs a new champion

LENNY BEN-DAVID (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Bravo to The Washington Times’s national security correspondent Eli Lake for his exposé of J Street over the weekend. The so-called pro-Israel organization is bursting with scandals about the identity of its contributors, its decision-making process, its conflicting policies on Iran sanctions, its ties to pro-Iranian and Arab American organizations and more. But many reporters have been reluctant to shine a spotlight on it, fearful of running afoul of the White House, for whom J Street proudly serves as President Barack Obama’s “blocking back.”
Since J Street’s founding, Jeremy Ben-Ami has repeatedly lied about his organization’s dependence on Israel’s super-critic George Soros. Lake revealed that J Street’s US tax records prove that Soros and his family are major contributors.
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J Street’s tax form 990 for the year ending in June 2009 showed that Soros contributed $145,000, daughter Andrea Soros gave $50,000 and son Jonathan an additional $50,000. That’s a significant percentage of J Street’s budget in its first years.
Despite all J Street’s denials, it’s clear that the organization abides by the “golden rule – he with the gold rules.” J Street’s policies strive to actualize Soros’s 2007 manifesto “On Israel, America and AIPAC” that appeared in the New York Review of Books. Soros’ influence goes a long way in explaining J Street’s very existence, its frequent criticism of Israel, its refusal to condemn the Goldstone Report, its flirtation with Iran, its refusal to support Israel’s Gaza operation and its active opposition to some American Jewish organizations.
The IRS tax returns also showed that J Street paid its vice president Jim Gerstein $61,000 for “consulting” services by the Gerstein-Agne company. Elsewhere, J Street listed $46,000 for polling expenses, presumably to Gerstein’s polling firm, which has published several polls for Ben-Ami’s lobby. Whether the polling fees were part of the consulting fees is irrelevant. The “business transactions involving interested persons,” to use the IRS phrase, is a questionable corporate practice by a supposedly not-for-profit organization. It also totally destroys the credibility of J Street’s self-serving polls.
The IRS forms also list J Street’s five officers and directors – something J Street never before publicized. For good reason. The fifth listed is Mort Halperin, a veteran Washington foreign policy hand who also serves as senior adviser at Soros’ Open Society Institute. In October 2009, at the height of congressional condemnation of the Goldstone Report, Judge Richard Goldstone sent a letter to members of Congress defending his criticism of Israel. One enterprising reporter checked the document’s “properties” and discovered the real author: Mort Halperin.
BEYOND THE Soros contributions to J Street, equally troubling is a huge $811,697 contribution from a “Consolacion Esdicul” from Hong Kong. It appears that Consolacion is “Connie” Esdicul, who Google reveals is a member of the Hong Kong Rotary Club, living in the Happy Valley section of Hong Kong. But little is known about the woman. J Street claims she was solicited by Bill Benter, “a prominent J Street supporter from Pittsburgh.”
Actually, Benter, who is not Jewish, is considered the world’s most successful bettor on horse races, and hangs out at the Happy Valley track. Racing sheets report that Benter places $250,000 bets. According to Wired.com, “Nobody’s more skilled at making bets than Bill Benter, regarded by many of his peers as the most successful sports bettor in the world.”
Esdicul’s contribution is a strange number, unlike all the others which are rounded off to three zeroes. The figure may make sense, however, if it were a foreign currency conversion. What currency does $811,697 equal? We can only speculate. Using today’s rates, Esdicul’s contribution equals 6,298,308 Hong Kong dollars, or 606,491 euros, or 517,388 British pounds or 3,044,756 Saudi riyals.
Why would a Hong Kong individual contribute as much as onehalf of J Street’s budget? Actually, Esdicul’s contribution is in line with J Street’s corrupt taking of money from pro-Saudi activists, Arab- American leaders, Muslim activists, State Department Arabists, a Palestinian billionaire and even a Turkish American who helped produce the anti-American and anti-Semitic film Valley of the Wolves.
According to the US Federal Election Commission, the largest contribution to J Street’s Political Action Committee is $36,000 from a Latin teacher in Teton Village, Wyoming named Bob Morris. How do you say “strange” in Latin? With such contributions, it’s easy to understand how J Street’s operation on Capitol Hill grew exponentially in the past 12 months.
According to lobbying records on file at the clerk of the House of Representatives and the secretary of the Senate, J Street’s lobbying budget went from under $5,000 in the first quarter of 2009, with one registered lobbyist, to $130,000 in the first quarter of 2010, when J Street registered six lobbyists.
The $811,687 contribution from Hong Kong should raise the question whether the lobbyists need to register as foreign agents and not domestic lobbyists.
Last week J Street published ads in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal demanding that Israel “freeze settlement growth.” (There were no parallel J Street demands on the Palestinians to stop jihadi incitement in the PA’s newspapers, radio and television networks.) “I would guess the two ads cost J Street a few hundred thousand dollars,” wrote one Jewish anti-Israel writer.
Now we know who pays for J Street’s ads, and running ads or hiring lobbyists to influence American policy could require foreign agent registration.
In recent months J Street endorsed several dozen candidates for congressional elections, and its political action committee has distributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to its favorite candidates.
How many of the endorsees will rush to reject the J Street favors now that the organization has emerged as a Soros and foreign front? Give J Street credit, though: It did succeed in identifying a leftist constituency looking for a voice in Washington. But The Washington Times exposé is so devastating to J Street’s credibility and standing in Washington that its constituency needs a new champion, one free of intrigues, lies and corruption.
The writer served as a senior diplomat in Israel’s embassy in Washington.
He is a public affairs consultant and blogs at www.lennybendavid.com.