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J Street Supported ‘Gaza 54’ Re-election Campaigns; Lobby Group’s Connections to...
J Street supported ‘Gaza 54’ re-election campaigns;
Lobby group’s connections to Soros family run deeper

Pins on the map indicate U.S. congressional districts of the 28 “Gaza 54”

members who received J Street endorsements in the Nov. 2 mid-term elections.

 
by MICHAEL C. DUKE
Jewish Herald-Voice
 
J Street backed more than half of the U.S. Congress members, known as the “Gaza 54,” in their Nov. 2 re-election bids.
 
A JH-V investigation into J Street’s campaign support also turned up additional connections between the group and controversial J Street donor George Soros.
 
Twenty-six of the 28 “Gaza 54” members who received official endorsements from J Street’s political action committee won their races. The JStreetPAC posted on its blog Nov. 3 that it directed more than $1.5 million to “pro-Israel, pro-peace” candidates for the 2010 mid-term elections. With this sum doled out, J Street claims to be “the country’s largest pro-Israel political action committee.”
 
However, J Street’s credibility as a pro-Israel lobby remains doubtful for many in the established pro-Israel community, due to the group’s positions, associations and donor base – some elements of which are considered harmful to Israel and U.S.-Israeli ties.
 
The 28 “Gaza 54” members of Congress who J Street endorsed for the Nov. 2 elections were:
 

U.S. Reps. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis.

Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore.

Bruce Braley, D-Iowa

Lois Capps, D-Calif.

Michael Capuano, D-Mass.

John Conyers, D-Mich.

Donna Edwards, D-Md.

Keith Ellison, D-Minn.

Sam Farr, D-Calif.

Bob Filner, D-Calif.

Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz.

Jim Himes, D-Conn.

Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y.

Rush Holt, D-N.J.

Mike Honda, D-Calif.

Jay Inslee, D-Wash.

Senate-hopeful Mary Jo Kilroy, D-Ohio

Betty McCollum, D-Minn.

Jim McDermott, D-Wash.

James McGovern, D-Mass.

George Miller, D-Calif.

Donald Payne, D-N.J.

David Price, D-N.C.

Senate-hopeful Joe Sestak, D-Penn.

Jackie Speier, D-Calif.

Peter Welch, D-Vt.

Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif.

John Yarmuth, D-Ky.
 
Those 28 joined 26 other Democratic members of Congress in signing a letter to President Barack Obama, dated Jan. 21, 2010, that called to pressure Israel into easing the blockade of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.
 

The letter suggested that Israel is carrying out a policy of “de facto collective punishment” against the Palestinians of Gaza. It focused blame on Israel, while minimizing Hamas’ role, in what was described as the “ongoing crisis in Gaza.”

 
The letter did not recognize, as many other congressional members have, that the Israeli-Egyptian blockade of the Strip, which began in June 2007, was the result of Hamas’ violent takeover of Gaza and the escalation of Palestinian terror attacks against Israel and Palestinian terror activities, including illegal weapons smuggling.
 
One “Gaza 54” signatory reportedly tried to remove her name after the letter became public. U.S. Rep. Yvette Clarke, of New York’s 11th District, did not receive a J Street endorsement for her Nov. 2 re-election campaign.
 
Mission organizers
  
Three weeks after the “Gaza 54” letter was sent, the J Street Education Fund sent five Democratic members of Congress on a mission to Israel and the Palestinian Authority-administered West Bank. Four of those members – Reps. Capps, Filner, Kilroy and Payne – were among the “Gaza 54.”
 
The trip cost organizers nearly $43,000, according to LegiStorm.com, a website dedicated to congressional transparency. Participants described the mission as an opportunity to learn more about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
 
J Street’s mission to Israel, its first, was co-sponsored by Churches for Middle East Peace. CMEP is a U.S. lobby organization supported by 23 churches and church-related organizations, many of them mainline Protestant.
 
According to the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, a media watchdog outfit, CMEP “has embraced the notion that the Arab-Israeli conflict can be brought to an end largely through Israeli withdrawals and concessions.” Such an approach is in tune with J Street positions on some high-profile issues, like that of Israel’s West Bank construction.
 
CMEP “pays little attention to the ideological and religious components of hostility toward Israel in the Middle East and oftentimes remains silent about the misdeeds of Arabs and Muslim regimes in the region, particularly in reference to human rights,” CAMERA noted on its website. “CMEP exhibits a persistent bias against Israel, but does not traffic in obvious anti-Jewish rhetoric. … In the main, the organization couches its criticism of Israel in cautious and circumspect language.”
 
Examples of that bias were evident in CMEP’s February 2010 Lenten and Easter Reflections, CAMERA reported March 10.
 

“Three of the reflections,” the CAMERA report stated, “are obvious attempts to direct attention to Israel’s alleged sins and portray Israel as solely responsible for the Arab-Israeli conflict.” CMEP issued these reflections as it partnered with J Street on their U.S. congressional mission.

Other bias watchdogs, like the Anti-Defamation League, also have criticized CMEP for its Israel-related positions.
 
In December 1996, ADL issued an open letter to CMEP over its full-page advertisement in The New York Times calling for a “shared Jerusalem.” ADL described the CMEP ad as “a ploy to delegitimize Israel’s sovereignty over its historic capital.”
 
According to NGO Monitor, which examines the roles played by human rights non-governmental organizations in the Arab-Israeli conflict, “CMEP’s rhetoric and its activities are not always consistent, and some of its constituent groups are centrally involved in the political war against Israel.”
 
NGO-Monitor.org reported Feb. 21, 2010, that “[a] number of CMEP partners take an active role in promoting BDS – the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign – as part of the 2001 Durban NGO agenda, which calls for the total international isolation of Israel.”
 
The report continued: “For example, Friends of Sabeel-North America is a fundraising and publicity branch of the Palestinian NGO Sabeel. This organization, headed by Naim Ateek, is a leader of the church divestment campaign, and in his speaking tours around North America, Ateek employs anti-Semitic themes and imagery in sermons promoting his ‘Palestinian Liberation Theology.’ In promoting this agenda, his rhetoric includes references to ‘the Israeli government crucifixion system.’”
 
The ADL, in a report published Oct 14, 2010, named Friends of Sabeel-North America as one of the “Top 10 Anti-Israel Groups in America.”
 
Other travel, Soros connections
  
The Israel mission was not the only trip recently taken to the Middle East by J Street endorsement recipients.
 
Reps. Capps and Payne – who went on the J Street Israel mission, signed the “Gaza 54” letter and received Nov. 2 J Street campaign endorsements – both participated in a February 2009 conference on “Islam: Governance, Ideology and U.S. Policy for the New Administration and the New Congress” in Jordan.
 
Reps. Hinchey, Holt and Woolsey – “Gaza 54” letter signatories who enjoyed J Street mid-term election support – also attended the conference.
 
The Aspen Institute, the conference’s organizer, spent as much as $17,000 per individual member of Congress to attend the weeklong event, according to LegiStorm data.
 
The Aspen Institute receives support from the Open Society Institute, a project of George Soros, a billionaire financier for “progressive” and arguably anti-Israel causes.
 
Soros, who has self-identified as a non-Zionist, secretly funded J Street for more than two years until the Washington Times reported Sept. 24, 2010, that J Street’s founder/president, Jeremy Ben-Ami, had been publicly lying about the donations, totaling $750,000.
 
Even when J Street was denying receipt of Soros family money, the group stated on its website that “it would be very pleased to have funding from Mr. Soros.”
 
The Aspen Institute has sponsored more than 1,100 trips, both domestic and overseas, taken by members of Congress, according to LegiStorm data. Trips for Democratic members, totally $4.7 million, have been favored nearly 2 to 1 over Republicans. “Gaza 54” and J Street-backed congressional officials are among the ranks.
 
Reps. Blumenauer, Miller, Payne and Price each participated in an Aspen Institute May/June 2010 conference on political Islam in Tunisia. Reps. Blumenauer and Miller attended similar Aspen Institute conferences in Turkey in ’06 and ’05.
 
Other trips taken to the Middle East by “Gaza 54” J Street picks were sponsored by the New America Foundation. Jonathan Soros, son of George Soros and president/co-deputy chairman of Soros Fund Management, sits on NAF’s Leadership Council.
 
NAF spent nearly $24,000 to send three members of Congress to Israel and the PA-administered West Bank in May ’09. Two of the three travelers, Reps. Edwards and Welch, signed the “Gaza 54” letter and received J Street backing for Nov. 2.
 
Like the Aspen Institute, the NAF overwhelmingly favors Democratic candidates. Yet, the organization self-identifies as “non-partisan.” Of the 10 overseas trips it has sponsored for members of Congress, seven have been for Democrats. The difference in spending has been $31,652 for Dems to $5,407 for the GOP, according to LegiStorm data.
 
The Center for Middle East Peace and Economic Cooperation has sent several “Gaza 54” members and J Street favorites to Israel, the PA-administered West Bank and to other Mideast countries, such as Syria and Lebanon. These trips have been reported as “fact-finding” missions. J Street’s Jim Gerstein, a founding member of the J Street board of directors, is a former executive director of the center.
 
The center has sponsored 25 congressional trips – 24, totaling near $240,000, for Democratic members of Congress. Six of those trips were for “Gaza 54” and J Street-backed Congress members: three for Rep. Hinchey and three for Rep. Price.
 
Chorus of criticism
  
J Street, since its founding in April 2008, has sought to make support for Israel and Palestinian-Israeli peace a partisan issue.
 
The lobby brands itself as a liberal alternative to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. J Street president Ben-Ami has described the group as a “blocking back” for the Obama administration.
 
While J Street uses “pro-peace” as a marketing tool for itself, most, if not all major pro-Israel organizations in the U.S. have endorsed a peaceful two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
 
Many in the pro-Israel community view a partisan approach to Israel support as dangerous and potentially damaging, as it undermines the fact that support for Israel in Congress is one of the few issues that enjoys longstanding bipartisanship.
 
Unlike AIPAC, which maintains bipartisan outreach and a support base, J Street almost exclusively backs Democratic candidates. This approach was underscored by JStreetPAC endorsements during the latest election cycle.
 
Moreover, J Street’s reported funding comes from almost exclusively left-wing, and in some cases, controversial donors, such as Soros, a longtime critic of AIPAC and its success.
 
Upon news of the initial J Street-Soros connection confirmation, Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, was quoted by the Washington Times Sept. 27, 2010, as saying, “[T]his is further evidence of the duplicity that they [J Street] have manifested all along, portraying themselves as something they are not … .”
 
U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va. – now the highest-ranking Jewish member of Congress – told the Times, “They [J Street] are not reflecting the mainstream position of the pro-Israel community in America, nor do I think they help benefit the U.S.-Israel relationship.”
 
There are widespread reports in print and online media regarding J Street funding sources – some sources that hardly could be considered “pro-Israel.” The same is true for presenters at J Street functions.
 
Media also have widely reported on controversial positions that the group has taken vis-à-vis Israel – positions that have been rebuked by pro-Israel groups.
 
The Zionist Organization of America, for example, expressed “shock and dismay” over J Street’s initial opposition to Iran sanctions, aimed at deterring the Islamic Republic from its pursuit of nuclear weapons.
 
J Street received similar criticism after it helped facilitate meetings between members of Congress and the author of the United Nations Goldstone report, which accused Israel of committing war crimes against Palestinians in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead. Israel has refuted that charge.
 
“It remains of great concern that J Street refers to itself as pro-Israel, while evidence points otherwise,” said Roz Rothstein, executive director of StandWithUs, a leading producer of Israel education resources, in a Nov. 5 statement to the JH-V.
 
Rothstein noted that J Street is a domestic U.S. lobby group that wrongly attempts to dictate policy to the democratically elected Israeli government.
 
J Street rebuts, on a “Myths & Facts” page of its website, criticisms it has received. It dismisses some criticisms as part of an alleged right-wing conspiracy to malign the group.
 
Despite a growing chorus of criticism against J Street, the group boasts on its website that its operations are growing. Evidence of that growth was seen locally last month, Oct. 17-19, when two J Street representatives – Dan Kohl, J Street’s vice president of political affairs, and Anne Gregory, J Street southern regional director – visited and fund-raised in Houston.
 
That visit, however, was not without local reactions and controversy, sparking a Friday night Shabbat sermon, a Federation blog post and criticism of claims made by the J Street reps.
 
Influence debated
  
The effectiveness of J Street’s campaign support for the Nov. 2, 2010, mid-term elections is being debated.
 
According to J Street’s own exit polling data, Jewish support for Democrats in the 2010 mid-term elections dropped more than 10 percentage points from the ’08 presidential campaign. The decline was greater in an American Jewish Committee poll from September/October of this year.
 
JStreetPAC blogged Nov. 3 that 46 of the 61 candidates it endorsed won or were projected to win their re-election bids.
 
The Republican Jewish Coalition’s political action committee enjoyed better numbers: 12 of the 13 Senate candidates it backed won (92 percent success); all three J Street picks for the U.S. Senate lost. Twenty-five of the RJCPAC 36 House candidates won their bids (69 percent success).
 
Politics bloggers, like Omri Ceren of MereRhetoric.com, noted Nov. 3 that about half of J Street’s congressional list covered safe/non-competitive Democratic districts: six defeated opposition who garnered less than 20 percent of the vote; one ran unopposed.
 
However, J Street did back a few candidates who saw narrow margins of victory. These included wins by Reps. Braley, Grijalva, Himes, and Hinchey. All four of these Congress members signed the controversial “Gaza 54” letter.
 
This article can be found here.
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