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J Street, Obama’s wingman on Iran

The 'pro-Israel, pro-peace' group endorses the deal even though Israelis oppose it -- how awkward is THAT?

Since its formation in 2008 as a left-leaning advocacy group on Mideast issues, J Street has been dogged by controversy. After denying that it had received funding from left-wing billionaire George Soros or foreign sources, it was forced to admit that in its first two years alone it received $750,000 from Soros and his family and $811,000 from a mysterious Hong Kong businesswoman named Consolacion Esdicul, whose interest in Mideast issues is unknown. It then promoted a U.N. report issued in the name of South African judge Richard Goldstone accusing Israel of war crimes, only to watch as Goldstone publicly recanted and declared the report erroneous.

Aggressively critical of others in the Jewish community, J Street has greatly benefited by marketing itself as “the pro-Israel, pro-peace” organization, a brilliant bit of branding that enables it to cast those who do not share its particular take on the Arab-Israel conflict as “anti-peace.” And it has flourished as an adjunct of the Obama White House’s political operation, uncritically executing its strategy on all issues relating to Israel. As a top J Street staffer described its symbiotic tie to the administration, “[W]hat they are looking for from us is very specific. …They are looking for us to give them cover.”

As the congressional fight over Iran intensifies, J Street is the only major Jewish group to endorse the deal. Somewhat awkwardly, the group that touts itself as “pro-Israel” is at odds with the overwhelming consensus of Israelis who, from left to right, find J Street’s position astonishingly naïve. The head of Israel’s liberal opposition party, Isaac Herzog, called the agreement “a bad deal” that “will affect the safety of my children.” Prominent left-wing Israeli writer Ari Shavit, author of the bestselling book “My Promised Land,” writes that it “could turn the world we live in into a nightmare.”

Indeed, J Street’s past positions on Iran’s race for nuclear weapons capacity have proven demonstrably wrong. The president has acknowledged that without congressional sanctions Iran would never have been willing to negotiate. Like Obama himself, J Street strenuously opposed those sanctions both before and after Obama took office, accusing supporters of sanctions of engaging in a “rush to war.”

In a July 2009 op-ed on the Huffington Post co-authored with the leader of a pro-Iranian group, J Street’s president, Jeremy Ben-Ami, denounced those who supported sanctions as “undermin[ing] President Obama’s agenda,” risking “dire consequences” to the U.S. Had this view prevailed, of course, there could never have been any deal at all.

Despite a full-court press employing first-class spin, the Obama administration has thus far failed to persuade Americans that its Iran deal is good for them or their children. A recent Pew poll found that 48 percent of Americans disapproved of the deal and only 38 percent favored it, while 73 percent had little or no confidence that Iran would even honor it.

The White House has sought to improve those numbers by resorting to attacks on “money,” “donors,” “lobbies” and unnamed people supposedly seeking war, and by threatening to blame Israel if the deal doesn’t pass. This is the kind of language that has been used by anti-Jewish bigots for a long time, and its deployment by those sensitive to coded appeals to bigotry in other contexts is especially troubling. Well-satisfied with its status as the president’s wingman in the Jewish community, J Street seems neither pained nor embarrassed by this poisonous rhetoric.

It is said that friends do not let their friends drive while intoxicated. It remains to be seen whether J Street will counsel its friends in the White House that they have crossed a line into ugly territory, doing lasting damage in the process, and that the use of venom to win a policy 
debate is a mark of those who, intoxicated or not, have lost their way.

Originally published at Boston Herald.

About the Author
Jeff Robbins, a former United States Delegate to the United Nations Human Rights Commission in the Clinton Administration, is an attorney in Boston, Massachusetts
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