Overview

  • Founded in 2008 in opposition to AIPAC, J Street calls itself “pro-Israel, pro-peace”; claims to support a peaceful, two-state solution, and aims to “redefine… what it means to be pro-Israel.”
  • Consists of three independent organizations: J Street, a 501(c)(4) registered lobbying group; JStreetPAC, a political action committee that donates to candidates; and J Street Education Fund, a 501(c)(3).
  • Also launched the ObamaSmearBusters.com website, “dedicated to fighting smears on President Obama’s sensible policy in the Middle East.”

Controversies

  • On Israel’s Gaza policy (February 4, 2010): “due to Israel’s policy of severely limiting passage of essential goods and materiel through its crossings, the suffering in Gaza continues. We believe this policy is strategically unsound, harms Israel’s security, and exacts an unacceptable toll on innocent Palestinians. It offends American humanitarian values, and is collective punishment that violates international law.”
  • On Gaza War (December 2008): “While this morning’s air strikes by Israeli Defense Forces in Gaza can be understood and even justified in the wake of recent rocket attacks, we believe that real friends of Israel recognize that escalating the conflict will prove counterproductive, igniting further anger in the region and damaging long-term prospects for peace and stability… only diplomacy and negotiations can end rockets and terror… We call for immediate, strong diplomatic intervention by the United States, the Quartet and allies in the region to negotiate a resumption of the ceasefire…” (emphasis added)
  • Support for UN Security Council resolution against Israel: In January 2011, J Street came out against a US veto of an anti-Israel UNSC resolution that was proposed by the Palestinians and Arab states: “we cannot support a U.S. veto of a Resolution that closely tracks long-standing American policy and that appropriately condemns Israeli settlement policy.”
  • Repudiation by former supporter Representative Gary Ackerman:
    In response to J Street’s stance on the UNSC resolution, Ackerman (D-NY) repudiated his association with the organization. “The decision to endorse the Palestinian and Arab effort to condemn Israel in the UN Security Council, is not the choice of a concerned friend trying to help. It is rather the befuddled choice of an organization so open-minded about what constitutes support for Israel that its brains have fallen out.” (January 25, 2011)

    J Street replied with personal attacks against Ackerman, but was forced to apologize to Ackerman a few days later:

    • “Saving the two-state solution will require leaders with courage and vision, both of which are sadly lacking in the Congressman’s statement today.” (January 25, 2011)
    • “He misrepresented our views, calling our position ‘befuddled’ in language better suited to a schoolyard argument than a ranking member of Congress…We won’t take his attack lying down. We need to show Congressman Ackerman and the political world that if they attack this movement, we’ll respond loudly and clearly….We are sad and disappointed that the Congressman lacks the courage of his convictions on this issue.” (Email, January 28, 2011)
  • In February 2010, J Street co-sponsored a congressional mission to Israel with Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP). CMEP’s website features the “KAIROS Palestine Document,” which explicitly promotes BDS. CMEP also quotes Bishop Mark Hanson of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, referring to the document as “a word of hope in a time of pessimism that could lead to despair.”
  • On the “Free Gaza” Flotilla (June 15, 2010): Directly opposed “letters to the President now circulating in the House regarding the Gaza flotilla” that J Street claimed expressed “a simplistic statement that supports Israeli policy and actions.” J Street encouraged “more nuanced views” that acknowledged the “impact” and “gravity” of the “present closure of Gaza on the civilian population.”
  • J Street supports the UN-Goldstone “war crimes” indictment:
    • A Washington Times investigation revealed J Street’s role in facilitating meetings between Judge Goldstone, author of the UNHRC report about the 2009 Gaza War, and members of Congress.
    • The Washington Times also reported that J Street Israeli liaison Colette Avital (a former Labor Party MK and Consul General in NY) resigned, in part, “because of the group’s connection to Judge Goldstone.”
    • Refused to support House Resolution 867, “Calling on the President and the Secretary of State to oppose unequivocally any endorsement or further consideration” of the Goldstone report. J Street was concerned, in part, that the resolution did not consider the suffering caused by “both the military operation and the ongoing blockade of Gaza” and that it did not acknowledge that “the Commission’s original mandate was adjusted by Judge Goldstone himself and accepted by the Human Rights Council to include a focus on the conduct of both sides.”
  • Iran Sanctions
    • Opposed sanctions, claiming that preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons “will best be realized through diplomatic engagement.” A later statement (July 2, 2009) recognized that “it is very likely that Iran’s nuclear program and support for terror against Israel will continue,” but “diplomatic engagement remains the most likely road to success.”
    • In October 2009, J Street declared that it “does not oppose the imposition of sanctions per se.”
    • However, in December 2009 Ben-Ami expressed support for the passage of Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act, recognizing “Iran’s continued defiance of the international community.”
  • J Street U vs. Israel
    • J Street’s student branch removed the phrase “pro-Israel” from the organization’s slogan, in order “to avoid alienating students.” Individual affiliates were also permitted to replace it with “pro-Israel, pro-Palestine.” Ben-Ami claimed that this was a marketing decision.
    • In November 2010, J Street and J Street U organized a “number of events around the country featuring UNRWA’s Gaza Director John Ging.” (See factsheet on Ging’s role in political warfare targeting Israel.)
    • In January 2011, J Street complained about “Taglit Birthright Israel’s decision to cancel the Birthright trip [to Israel] J Street U was planning in coordination with trip provider Israel Experience.” However, according to Taglit-Birthright, “at no time did it approve of a Birthright Israel trip in association with JStreet, nor did it give its trip provider, the Israel Experience, any approval for such a trip. We did not rescind its approval as no approval was given in the first place… we were perplexed to read a press release by JStreetU announcing it was ‘leading’ a Birthright Israel trip.”
    • In a blog post, J Street U’s Jerusalem Organizer Drew Cohen wrote that he identifies with this statement by lawfare lawyer Emily Schaeffer, “Unless I’m with people who I am certain do not espouse Zionism or any form of oppression, I cannot comfortably honor the tradition, or even be sure I want to be part of it.”
  • The 2009 J Street conference hosted a panel of “progressive” bloggers, including hard-core anti-Zionists Max Blumenthal and Helena Cobban. Ben-Ami explained, “I’m not giving them any approval whatsoever, and there’s no sanction to their beliefs…I’m not going to say, ‘No you can’t eat lunch together.’”

Affiliations with politicized Israeli NGOs

Funding controversies

  • In September 2010, media reports revealed that J Street “secretly receiveddonations worth $750,000 from George Soros, founder of the Open Society Institute, and his family.
  • Previously, Ben-Ami had implied that J Street did not receive support from Soros, dismissing reports to the contrary. After the donation was exposed, Ben-Ami apologized, saying that his comments had been “less than clear” and “misleading.”
  • Half of J Street’s funding in 2008-2009 came via a $811,697 donation from Consolacion Esdicul, a mysterious businessperson from Hong Kong and friend of another J Street supporter Bill Benter. Ms. Esdicul’s involvement and motives have not been revealed.
  • Funders of J Street’s Political Action Committee include directors of the National Iranian American Council and the Arab American Institute; a lawyer who represented the Saudi embassy in Washington; a former foreign agent for Saudi Arabia; and former CIA station chief in Saudi Arabia, Ray Close (reported to have worked for the former head of Saudi intelligence).
  • In December 2010, the Washington Times reported that J Street had been paying Ben-Or Consulting, an Israeli PR firm founded and co-owned by Ben Ami, tens of thousands of dollars in consultation fees.  Charity experts quoted in the article said that this raised ethical issues of self-dealing and conflict of interest.