Why J Street’s Ben-Ami was forced to apologize to Dermer on CNN

Until the televised debate, I had interacted little with Ben-Ami; but one small interaction had taught me a lot about his organization.

SHMULEY BOTEACH faces off with Jeremy Ben-Ami on CNN. (photo credit: screenshot)
SHMULEY BOTEACH faces off with Jeremy Ben-Ami on CNN.
(photo credit: screenshot)
Last Friday on CNN, I got a taste of how J Street and its founder Jeremy Ben-Ami operate. I was asked to debate the appropriateness of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s upcoming speech to Congress. I did not know whom I’d be debating until I arrived at the studio. Truth be told, I was much more focused on getting home before Shabbat, seeing as the TV segment was being filmed late on Friday afternoon for Saturday broadcast.
Until the televised debate, I had interacted little with Ben-Ami. But one small interaction had taught me a lot about his organization.
Back in 2010, Elie Wiesel had taken out a full-page ad asking President Barack Obama not to divide Jerusalem. It was brilliantly written, was warm and heartfelt.
J Street, fairly new to most Americans at the time, decided to launch a counter-attack against most respected Jewish personality alive, in the form of a paid advertisement by a radical and obscure Meretz politician. It was cold, mocking and pathetic. I responded with an open letter to Ben-Ami, published in The Huffington Post, defending the Nobel Peace Prize laureate. Since then, Ben-Ami and I have not had much interaction.
The host, Michael Smerconish, is a friend and a man whom I admire. He started the segment and asked me if it was appropriate for the prime minister to break protocol and speak to Congress.
I responded that there was nothing new in Bibi addressing Congress and indeed I was personally present when he did so in May 2011. I added that in America we threw out the divine right of kings a quarter of a millennium ago.
President Obama deserves respect.
But when the issues are Iran’s nukes and its genocidal ambitions against the six million Jews of Israel, then the prime minister has a responsibility to take his message wherever it will be heard. And if the president feels offended no doubt he’ll get over it. But if Iran gets a nuclear bomb Israel will not get over it.
Smerconish then went to Ben- Ami, who immediately and savagely attacked Ambassador Ron Dermer as having cynically orchestrated the prime minister’s address to kneecap President Obama.
I was stunned.
Ambassador Dermer is my former student and one of my closest friends. He is also one of the people I most admire in the whole world. A stalwart, eloquent champion of his people, he is a man of iron conviction and righteous principle. Few men are as upstanding.
I went on the attack.
You’re here slandering Israel’s ambassador to the United States on national TV, I told Ben-Ami, falsely accusing him of having engineered the speech when the invitation came from the speaker of the House of the United States, John Boehner. What proof do you have that Dermer engineered it? Or did you invent this out of whole cloth? Ben-Ami had the deer-in-theheadlights look, mumbling something about media reports to that effect.
I dismissed his ridiculous answer.
I have no interest in media reports, I told him. I’m asking you, Jeremy Ben-Ami, who just slandered Israel’s ambassador, to provide even a shred of evidence to the serious allegations you just made.
Ben-Ami tried to change the subject. I would not let him, finally demanding that if he were a gentleman he would apologize to Dermer for having slandered him in front of a nationwide audience.
With no choice and having been caught red-handed with fraudulent allegations, Ben-Ami said he apologized.
He would later take to Twitter to say, “True: I don’t know if Dermer arranged invite for House speech.
I do know he didn’t tell White House or Dems in Congress about it.” Talk about a man who doesn’t know how to apologize. Or to lose gracefully. Shortly thereafter Ben- Ami wrote: “Full video of @RabbiShmuley defending Netanyahu invite. Takes 7 mins for him to lose here, just two in CNN clip.”
There are a number of lessons from this exchange, none greater than the utter farce of J Street calling itself a pro-Israel lobby. Here was the head of J Street getting on national TV and slamming the Israeli ambassador to the United States as if he were an enemy.
Much more significant, however, is the exposure of Ben-Ami as a man prepared to malign Israel fraudulently and simply invent malignant fiction to malign the Jewish state.
Talk about chutzpah.
It’s one thing to devote your organization to attacking Israel.
It’s quite another to then call it a pro-Israel lobby. But to then be prepared to fib and tell untruths about prominent Jews in pursuit of your attacks on Israel brings contempt for Israel and its representatives to a seriously alarming level.
Ben-Ami ought to do some soul-searching, digging real deep to discover why Israel irks him and why the Jewish state bothers him so much.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the founder of This World: The Values Network, an organization defending Israel in the media. He is the author of Judaism for Everyone and 30 other books, including his most recent, Kosher Lust. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.