J Street's dangerous detour to the White House
Is it fraud to portray itself as backing Israel to pro-Israel and anti-Israel audiences at the same time?
Yasser Arafat sought peace with Israel, Jeremiah was a bullfrog, the Brooklyn Bridge is for sale, Brutus was an honorable man and J Street is a pro-Israel organization. Not.
As a long-time student of American politics and the US-Israel relationship, I am fascinated by the J Street phenomenon and grateful for The Jerusalem Post's recent exposÃ© "Muslims, Arabs among J Street donors," which raises additional questions about the group: How can J Street call itself "pro-Israel" while advocating positions that are at odds with the traditional pro-Israel agenda. Who stands behind the organization? Why hasn't the organization drawn the attention of investigative reporters, or is the press reluctant to challenge an organization that has emerged as US President Barack Obama's "toy Jews"? How did an upstart organization get an invitation to a White House meeting with the president just one year after its founding?
AS THE Post story made clear, one aspect of the lobby's fund-raising is open to public scrutiny: the US Federal Election Commission's (FEC) list of the J Street Political Action Committee (PAC) donors. It appears that the majority of J Street PAC's contributors are liberal American Jews, but, according to the FEC and the Post story, the PAC donors also include the Saudi Embassy's lawyer, Arab American leaders, student leaders at Islamic centers around the US, board members of the de facto Iranian lobby in the US and Arabist American foreign service officers. Among the organization's advisory council are former US diplomats and public officials who later became foreign agents in the pay of the Saudis, Egyptians and Tunisians.
J Street proclaims on its Web site that (from $850,000 raised), it contributed $575,000 to candidates in the latest election cycle, "more than any other pro-Israel PAC in the country." Do these well-known detractors of Israel know they are giving to an organization that advertises itself as "pro-Israel?" Or do the Arab-American and pro-Iranian donors give because they perceive that the goals of J Street match their goals: to weaken the State of Israel and undermine the US-Israel relationship?
In the classic chicken-and-egg question: Does J Street set its policies to attract their donations, or do the contributors set J Street policies? At the same time, do the well-meaning progressive and true friends of Israel know who else is filling the coffers at J Street and its PAC?
A pro-Israel organization's bona fides should be judged by the company it keeps and the FEC documents suggest that J Street keeps questionable company indeed - a "not employed" man is really a Palestinian billionaire; a "self-employed" contributor is also a board member of the National Iranian American Council and serves on J Street's finance committee with a minimum donation of $10,000; a "lawyer" who contributes $15,000 is a board member of the discredited and anti-Israel Human Rights Watch; a "housing specialist" is an anti-Israel activist in the Methodist Church; a "teacher" is a founder of an Islamic school indoctrinating students to be anti-Israel.
J Street's director must take the Post's readers for fools when he claims, "I think it is a terrific thing for Israel for us to be able to expand the tent of people who are willing to be considered pro-Israel."
Why should a National Iranian American Council board member give at least $10,000 to J Street PAC? Perhaps it is because of the very close relationship between the two organizations. In June the directors of both organizations coauthored an article in the Huffington Post, "How diplomacy with Iran can Work," arguing against imposing new tough sanctions on Iran.
The two organizations have worked in lockstep over the last year to torpedo congressional action against Iran. Why would a supposedly pro-Israel, pro-peace organization work so hard to block legislation that would undermine the Iranian ayatollah regime? Ostensibly, any step to hinder Iran's nuclear development and aid to Hamas and Hizbullah would be a step toward regional peace. Deterring Iran through sanctions would lessen the need for military action against Iran. This, as well as championing Hamas's cause, just doesn't make sense.
THE POST also noted donations from individuals connected to Arab American groups.
In June, the director of J Street was a guest speaker at the annual conference of the Arab lobbying group, the Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee. Appearing on the same panel was the J Street-endorsed Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Maryland), one the few members of Congress who refused to support a congressional resolution in January that recognized Israel's right to defend itself against Hamas. J Street's PAC raised $30,000 for Edwards in June.
We come back to the questions: Do J Street's Jewish and (really) pro-Israel supporters know about J Street's alliance with Arab Americans and the Iranian lobby? And, echoing the questions surrounding the recently reported Human Rights Watch solicitation from Saudi sources, did J Street's PAC actively solicit funds from these groups, and what was the message to them?
Supporters of J Street should know that their contributions to the PAC are a matter of public record. They owe it to their own reputations to see who's on the roster alongside their names.
Does J Street's leadership perpetrate fraud when it portrays itself as pro-Israel to pro-Israel and anti-Israel audiences at the same time? The question should be left to legal authorities, J Street donors and the court of public opinion to decide. In Jewish law there is a concept of gneyvat da'at - knowingly misrepresenting oneself. Of that, J Street is guilty.
J Street maintains three fiscal entities: its main organization, the political action committee and a campus education organization. Only the last two are transparent under US law, with contribution lists provided as public record to the Internal Revenue Service and the Federal Election Committee. But what of J Street's non-transparent main organization? Are there contributions from Iranian-related or Arab-American sources as there are to the PAC? Does J Street solicit money in the Human Rights Watch model?
Would that explain its opposition to Iranian sanctions? Does that explain its "evenhanded" policy on the issue of Israel's war against Hamas? Its support for Caryl Churchill's anti-Semitic play Seven Jewish Children?
Only opening all of its financial books will give J Street the kosher certification the progressive, pro-Israel, pro-peace community deserves.
The writer served as a senior diplomat in the Israeli Embassy in Washington and a member of AIPAC's staff in Washington and Jerusalem from 1972 to 1997. Today he is a public affairs consultant. He blogs at www.lennybendavid.com where a full version of this article appears.