Sunday, May 31, 2015

The J Street Challenge Part One: J Street's Donors

This is Part One of a three part series on J Street written by Elinor Weiss and published in Buffalo Jewish Review.

The Buffalo premier showing of the documentary, The J Street Challenge, takes place at the Benderson Jewish Community Center on Tuesday, June 9 at 7 PM.  The documentary will show why some people concerned about J Street, a Jewish organization, view its  “pro-peace” and “pro-Israel” claim as deceptive.  This is the first of the series that focuses on the donors of J Street.

Part One

J Street’s Donors

Some say you can judge others by the company they keep.  Is there a saying for organizations and the donors they attract? What if an organization describes itself as pro-Israel but is supported by individuals who are hostile to Israel? These are questions that can be asked about J Street, a progressive left wing Jewish organization that wishes to change the way American Jews view and advocate for the Jewish State.

Several years ago, the Jerusalem Post reported on J Street’s political action committee. The Post reviewed the filings of the Federal Election Commission and found that J Street received tens of thousands of dollars in contributions from dozens of Arab, Iranian and Muslim Americans, even leaders of Muslim student groups. J Street tries to hide its support from those that are against a Jewish state, such as George Soros.  According to Pajamas Media “State Department officials, a Palestinian billionaire, and board members of the discredited Human Rights Watch and the Iranian lobby were also listed…”
Let’s examine J Street’s donor, Human Rights Watch, an independent organization, which George Mason law professor David Bernstein describes as being “maniacally anti-Israel.” Human Rights Watch was reported by pro-Israel web sites as employing military expert Marc Garlasco with an obsession for Nazi memorabilia.  As the uproar grew, Human Rights Watch eventually suspended Garlasco.

Professor Bernstein’s article Human Rights Watch Goes to Saudi Arabia uncovers a systemic problem with the organization. The article describes what happened when the group sent a delegation to Saudi Arabia.  The purpose of the trip was not to criticize Saudi Arabia’s laws that allow for human rights abuses such as mistreatment of women and death to homosexuals. The delegation did not discuss the lack of religious freedom. Instead, Human Rights Watch solicited funds from Saudi Arabia, in exchange for biased reporting of Israel. According to the article there was “a pitch about how money is needed to fight pro-Israel forces…”
Mr. Bernstein noted, “Ms. Whitson, who gave the presentation to potential Saudi donors, is director of HRW’s Middle East and north Africa Division.”  In other words, the money Ms. Whitson personally raises might affect Human Rights Watch research and policy on Israel.

Ironically, Human Rights Watch describes itself on its web site as conducting “objective investigations.” That claim can be viewed with skepticism because, when it comes to Israel,  Human Rights Watch mixes the donor side with the investigative side.  So what does an organization that has placed itself in a compromising position, find in J Street.?

Perhaps it’s J Street’s own conflicted structure that may seem so appealing. The Post article details how J Street’s controversial contributors play key roles in the organization such as the finance committee. Some J Street’s board members also serve on the boards of the Arab American Institute, the National Iranian Council Board, or who have represented Arab countries hostile to Israel such as Saudi Arabia. That’s an unusual board for a Jewish pro-Israel organization.
J Street’s structure leads to questions.  Why would a member of the Iranian lobby be on the board of J Street?  Is there a benefit from J Street’s opposition to sanctions on Iran, a country that has threatened to wipe Israel off the map?  Why does J Street attract those who appear to be against Israel?  These controversial donors have not given so freely to other Jewish groups.
In response to criticisms director Jeremy Ben-Ami replied, “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 and willing to support Israel through J Street.”
Is Ben-Ami being disingenuous? Critics of J Street are not against broadening the tent. In an ideal world, reasonable people should be working together for peace.  Having moderate Muslim groups as donors would be wonderful.  But the controversial donors for J Street are not moderate. Some seek Israel’s demise as a Jewish state. Through words and deeds some have demonstrated the antithesis of what most reasonable people would consider necessary for the promotion of peace in the mid-East.
What conclusions can be drawn about J Street’s policies? Perhaps repeatedly saying “pro-Israel” does not automatically make J Street and its donors pro-Israel. And J Street changing what it means to be “pro-Israel” can undermine Israel’s security.

To find out more about J Street come to the program, “The J Street Challenge,” Tuesday, June 9 at 7 PM at the Benderson JCC.  Meet the producer of the documentary, “The J Street Challenge,” Ilya Feoktisov.  It will be a stimulating event!

The J Street Challenge Part Two: How a J Street Conference can Radicalize College Students

This is Part Two of a three part series on J Street written by Elinor Weiss and published in Buffalo Jewish Review.

The Buffalo premier showing of the documentary, The J Street Challenge, takes place at the Benderson Jewish Community Center on Tuesday, June 9 at 7 PM.  The documentary will show why some people concerned about J Street, a Jewish organization, view its  “pro-peace” and “pro-Israel” claim as deceptive.  In Part One, the focus was on the donors of J Street.  This time the focus is how college students can be radicalized by J Street.

Part Two 

How a J Street Conference can Radicalize College Students

J Street appeals to college students who yearn for a simplistic solution to the Mid East conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbors.  Recently, Jewish students at the University of Buffalo observed that some who went to the recent J Street National  Conference returned to campus radicalized against Israel.  A member of the local UB J Street Chapter even compared the terrorist group, Hamas, to freedom fighters after listening to speakers at the conference.

It’s puzzling to understand how attending a Jewish conference that brandishes the “pro-Israel motto”  will lead college students to praise a terrorist group dedicated to killing Jews wherever they are.  What’s going on?

For starters, the list of speakers at the conference included people that demonize Israel.  One of the speakers was Saeb Erekat, a chief negotiator of the Palestinian Authority.  Erekat has falsely accused Israel of war crimes and committing massacres.  Another speaker, Marcia Freedman, also distorted Israel.  Freedman, a member of the J Street Advisory Board, told attendees that Israel was not a true democracy and that Jews took the land from the Palestinians.  She suggested that Jews live as a protected minority in Israel under an Arab government.  Those who support boycotting and divesting from Israel (BDS) can also get a platform in a J Street conference.  BDS would isolate and weaken Israel economically, academically and socially while doing nothing to promote peace in the mideast.

J Street points to these anti -Israel speakers as promoting a vibrant, open discussion.  Except that it doesn’t.   J Street supporters never hear from those who are critical of J Street’s policies and funding.  These critics probably aren’t allowed to be heard because J Street might have a hard time defending policies that can be perceived as hurting Israel’s security.  For example, J Street made financial contributions to  eleven Congressional candidates who either voted against or refused to vote in favor of increased funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system. The Iron Dome was essential in saving Israeli lives during Hamas’s assault on the Jewish State last summer. Why would J Street support candidates that have a problem with Israel defending itself against a terrorist group?

If J Street was truly open to a vibrant discussion, as its founder and head of J Street insists, it would allow speakers at its conference who don’t agree with its position on negotiations with Iran.  J Street opposes the military option against Iran if negotiations fail to stop the country from securing nuclear weapons.  What could have been more open than a debate at the J Street conference than how to deter Iran from getting nuclear weapons?  Instead, speakers that disagreed with J Street’s policies on a secure Israel were not on the speakers list.

J Street’s targeting of Jewish college groups presents a dilemma. While some say it’s great to hear controversial views others might wonder whether J Street’s positions on Israel, Iran and its affiliations with groups that demonize Israel make it an appropriate choice for student organizations wishing to foster a strong Jewish identity and connection to Israel.

To find out more about J Street and how it affects American Jews, including college students, come to the J Street Challenge, Tuesday, June 9, at 7 PM at the Benderson JCC.  Meet the producer of The J Street Challenge, Ilya Feoktistov, and watch the documentary.  It will be an interesting evening!

The J Street Challenge Part Three: The Peace Center J Street Connection

This is Part Three of a three part series on J Street written by Elinor Weiss and published in Buffalo Jewish Review.

The Buffalo premier showing of the documentary, The J Street Challenge, takes place at the Benderson Jewish Community Center on Tuesday, June 9 at 7 PM.  

The documentary shows why some people concerned about J Street, a Jewish organization, view its  “pro-peace” and “pro-Israel” claim as deceptive.  

The last of the J Street series focuses on the Buffalo J Street connection.

Part 3

The Peace Center J Street Connection

For many years through the efforts of the now defunct Israel/Palestine committee, the Western New York Peace Center sponsored programs that not only disparaged Jews and Israel but also gave solace to those who apologize for terrorism.  This article describes the connection between the Western New York Peace Center and J Street.

Several years ago, along with a few friends, I attended a program that was promoted by the Western New York Peace Center.  A quasi-documentary that distorted the founding of the State of Israel was shown.  The film focused on Palestinians who wanted to return to their homes in cities such as Tel Aviv.  The audience, comprised mostly of young college age students, appeared deeply affected by what they heard and saw.  The students were reassured by one of the program moderators that the following school year students would be even more organized against Israel.

During the question and answer period, Adam Shapiro, one of the producers of the “documentary,” called Congress “occupied territory”, and told the audience that support for Israel would be changing in Washington, DC. Shapiro attributed part of the change due to J Street, a new organization that would be challenging AIPAC, a pro-Israel advocacy organization. It was unsettling to hear J Street being promoted positively during a program hostile towards the Jewish State.

Place this endorsement of J Street against the backdrop of the event. The moderator introduced the program by describing the “Zionist machinery that massacres Palestinian children.” Then there was Adam Shapiro, producer of the film, and co-founder of the International Solidarity Movement, a group dedicated to preventing Israel from protecting itself from terrorists in Gaza.  Shapiro encouraged those in attendance to boycott Israeli products in grocery stores.  And there was James Holstun, UB Professor and co-chair of the WNY Peace Center of the Israel /Palestinian Committee. One would assume that Holstun is for peaceful solutions to a tragic conflict yet he appeared with a panelist that excuses violence in the region. The UB professor endorsed a “documentary” produced explicitly for Palestinian children that was sure to fill them with hate. The film was infused with propaganda against Israel and Jews.

My friends and I were dismayed by what we saw and heard.  At the time we knew nothing about J Street and what it might mean for the Jewish community and Israel.

Now jump ahead a few years later.  J Street has attracted national attention.  It has strong views on what it thinks Israel needs to do for peace in the region.  These views have attracted supporters, many on the college campuses.  J Street wants to impose its views for peace on Israel.

Some think J Street has taken bold steps.  Others feel that J Street’s policies have made it difficult for Israel to defend itself.  And yet others wonder why those opposed to the Jewish State would donate to an organization that says it is pro-Israel.

What‘s the verdict? Do J Street’s policies undermine Israel’s security?

Come view the documentary, “The J Street Challenge,” Tuesday, June 9 at 7 PM at the Benderson JCC.  Meet Ilya Feoktistov, the producer of the documentary, “The J Street Challenge.”  Decide for yourself whether J Street helps or undermines Israel’s security.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Impact of Islam on the Life of Sister Mariam Baouardy, One of the "Palestinians" Canonized By Pope Francis

Thank you to Julia Lutch for providing this.

One of the newly canonized saints, Sister Mariam Baouardy, daughter of Greek Catholics, was born in 1848 in Galilee and apparently this is enough for her to be designated as a "Palestinian." Her parents died when Mary was only two, and she was raised by a paternal uncle, who moved her to Alexandria, Egypt when she was eight. At age 13, she refused an arranged marriage. As punishment for her disobedience, her uncle hired her out as a domestic servant. A Muslim servant with whom she worked "befriended" her, with an eye to converting her to Islam. On 8 September 1858, Mary convinced him she would never abandon her Christian faith; in response he cut her throat and dumped her in an alley. Mary lived and chose to pursue a religious life.

Read more about Sister Mariam Baouardy at and at