While never monolithic, the pro-Israel community has been mostly unified since Israel became independent. That has all changed since the emergence of J Street as a lobby that explicitly set out to challenge the establishment. The group claims it is pro-Israel, but it is fundamentally divisive and philosophically more in tune with the Arab lobby than the pro-Israel lobby.
This was most recently apparent when J Street decided to support President Obama’s catastrophic nuclear deal with Iran despite the opposition of both the Netanyahu government, the opposition Labor Party, and, according to the polls, approximately 80 percent of both the Israeli and American population.
Now we learn that its campaign to mislead Congress and the American public about the Iran deal was paid for by the Ploughshares Fund. Ironically, Ploughshares seeks to eliminate the world’s nuclear stockpiles and yet supported an agreement that encourages nuclear proliferation. The Fund paid J Street an astounding $576,500 – the equivalent of nearly one-third of the lobby’s entire 2014 budget — to help the Obama administration undermine Israel’s security.
According to deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes, the Ploughshares Fund was a key partner in the campaign to recruit nongovernmental organizations, proliferation experts and “friendly” reporters to create an “echo chamber” to support the Iran deal. J Street’s executive director Jeremy Ben-Ami had numerous meetings with White House officials, including Rhodes, and the organization created a website, Iran Deal Facts, to echo the administration’s talking points. Blogger Elder of Zion described J Street succinctly as “nothing but a paid shill for the White House to split the U.S. Jewish community and put it at odds with how Israelis feel.”
The Iran case is just one example, however, of J Street’s malevolent influence.
When President Obama criticized Israel for building homes in its capital, Elie Wiesel published an ad calling for support for the unity of Jerusalem. In response, J Street published its own ad, reprinting an article from Haaretz by Yossi Sarid calling for the division of Israel’s capital. Sarid summarized J Street’s philosophy by asking President Obama to use his clout to save us from ourselves.
This idea that Israel must be saved from itself is not new. It has been a staple of Arabist thinking at the State Department for decades and was reflected in an article written by former undersecretary of state George Ball entitled, “How to save Israel in spite of itself.” The view has always been popular among critics of Israel who, like J Street, believe that Israelis are either too stupid, immature, or foolish to know what is best for them and therefore must be helped to see the error of their ways by Americans who know better from the safety and comfort of their homes 6,000 miles away.
The followers of this school like to assert that they represent the true opinion of Israelis. Yet, when Israelis have the opportunity to vote their preferences they do not choose governments that have the policies of J Street. Could it be that rather than being foolish and immature, Israeli voters actually know their history and make decisions based on their experience?
One of the early examples of J Street being out of step with the pro-Israel community was the group’s opposition to Israel’s policy toward the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas. Hadar Susskind, vice president of policy and strategy for J Street wrote in the Washington Post that the issue was not whether Israel had a right to enforce the blockade of Gaza, but whether it makes Israel more secure. It does not, he asserted.
Israelis, who have caught Hamas smuggling rockets and other weapons, disagree. And, by the way, so does Egypt, which enforces its own blockade, and without which Israel’s would be ineffective.
The Washington Times revealed that at a time when Israel and the pro-Israel community were documenting the bias and inaccuracy of the Goldstone report alleging that Israel committed war crimes while defending itself against thousands of Hamas rockets (Judge Goldstone later recanted), J Street was arranging meetings for Goldstone on Capitol Hill. When confronted, Executive Director Jeremy Ben-Ami denied its involvement, but the Times had a recording of an interview with J Street supporter Collete Avital proving their report was accurate.
J Street’s campaign financing arm also undermines Israel’s security. For example, in 2014, 11 members of the House of Representatives supported by J Street refused to support, or voted against, funding for the Iron Dome anti-missile system that has saved thousands of Israeli lives.
There is a fundamental distinction between the consensus of the pro-Israel community and those who claim to represent Israel’s best interests. The former do not substitute their judgement for that of Israeli citizens who must live with the consequences of policy decisions, and who must fight and sometimes die for their country.
Even more critically, J Street chooses to ignore Middle East history and all of the complex factors — religion, geography, history, politics, psychology — that make the conflict in the region so enduring and reduce the problem to Israel’s presence in the West Bank. It is particularly ironic that J Street emerged after the disengagement from Gaza, which should have put to rest once and for all the myth that occupation and/or settlements are the reasons that the Middle East is not Eden.
The Washington Post editorialized about the naiveté of those that adopt the J Street line that peace would follow from American pressure on Israel: It’s easy enough for global leaders to issue flowery appeals for action on the Middle East or to imply that progress would be possible if only the United States used its leverage with Israel. The stubborn reality is that there can be no movement toward peace until a Palestinian leadership appears that is ready to accept Israel’s existence as a Jewish state.
Palestinian Authority dictator Mahmoud Abbas has refused, however, to negotiate with Israel’s prime minister for the last seven years, and their chief negotiator admitted that if Israel offered the Palestinians 100% of what they demanded it still would not satisfy them. The Palestinians have no interest in recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, or coexisting with Israel, even if a Palestinian state was established tomorrow. Such facts are critical to Israel’s survival, but of no importance to J Street.
Yet another example of J Street chutzpah is to call itself the pro-peace lobby, which clearly suggests that everyone else is anti-peace or pro-war. Of course, AIPAC and the rest of the pro-Israel community has been working for Middle East peace since before Ben-Ami was born, but the lobby that truly represents Americans who believe in peace and a strong U.S.-Israel relationship insists that Israelis should decide policies related to their security.
J Street maintains that it speaks for a constituency that has been silenced, but this is nonsense as well. It is the argument made by the losing side of a debate, as in the case of professors Walt and Mearsheimer, and the other detractors of the Israeli lobby who cannot accept the idea that their views are considered but ultimately rejected because they do not represent the national interest.
Another myth propagated by J Streeters is that their actions help Israel, not hurt it, but this shows a total ignorance of the nature of interest groups. Like it or not, as Alan Dershowitz observed, whatever Jews say comes through a megaphone, and J Street’s views are magnified and often misinterpreted as the position American Jews. State Department Arabists have long exploited such critics to defend anti-Israel policies by saying, in effect, “even the Jews agree with us.” J Street proved to be similar “useful idiots” to the Obama administration in the lobbying campaign for the Iran deal, and during its pursuit of the disastrous J Street/Arabist approach to peacemaking that has, predictably, failed.
But only now did we discover that J Street was basically bought off to lobby for the Iran deal with nearly $600,000 proving once and for all that J Street’s problem is not having the wrong policies but rather having policies that are sold to the highest bidder.
The pro-Israel community votes with its feet and its wallet and that is why 18,000 people attended this year’s AIPAC Policy Conference and AIPAC’s budget is roughly $100 million, compared with J Street’s $2 million. Rather than representing the alleged mass of disaffected Jews, it turned out the group’s largest initial funders were a lady in Hong Kong and George Soros. The former, apparently a non-Jew with no connection to Israel, gave a whopping $811,697 to the group. Soros is a billionaire known for his virulent criticism of Israel, who was originally rumored to be the money behind the group, but then reportedly decided not to finance J Street for fear of tainting it because of his reputation of hostility toward Israel. J Street lied about its dependence on Soros until it could no longer hide the evidence.
According to blogger, Lenny Ben-David, the group’s political action committee took 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.” These do not appear to be the silent majority of pro-Israel Jews J Street claims to represent.
Pro-Israel? Pro-Peace? Nah, just for sale to the highest bidder.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach whom The Washington Post calls “the most famous rabbi in America” is the founder of The World Values Network and is the international best-selling author of 30 books, including his just-published, “The Israel Warrior: Fighting Back for the Jewish State from Campus to Street Corner.” Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.