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!

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