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April 30, 2014 6:23 pm

J Street Rejected by American Jewish Umbrella Group in ‘Big Tent’ Litmus Test

avatar by Alina Dain Sharon and Sean Savage / JNS.org

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J Street Executive Director Jeremy Ben-Ami. Photo: J Street Facebook page.

JNS.org – In what many observers will see as the de facto expression of mainstream U.S. Jewry’s outlook on J Street, members of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations on Wednesday voted 22-17 (with three abstentions) to reject the membership application of the self-labeled “pro-Israel, pro-peace” lobby. J Street secured the votes of only about a third of the Conference’s 50 members.

The 42 Conference members in attendance in New York exceeded the 75-percent quorum needed to hold the vote, but J Street fell significantly short of the required threshold of a two-thirds affirmative vote from the Conference’s full membership. The result that 25 organizations either voted against J Street or abstained meant that half of the Conference’s members declined to support J Street’s application.

“The Conference meticulously followed its long-established Process and Procedures Guidelines in considering J Street’s application. … The present membership of the Conference includes organizations which represent and articulate the views of broad segments of the American Jewish community and we are confident that the Conference will continue to present the consensus of the community on important national and international issues as it has for the last 50 years,” said Conference of Presidents Chairman Robert G. Sugarman and Executive Vice Chairman/CEO Malcolm Hoenlein.

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J Street said in a statement, “This is a sad day for us, but also for the American Jewish community and for a venerable institution that has chosen to bar the door to the communal tent to an organization that represents a substantial segment of Jewish opinion on Israel.”

Jewish leaders have used a “big tent” metaphor to describe which views on Israel and U.S. foreign policy are encompassed within the community’s consensus. Since its formation in 2008, J Street has been a frequent subject of debates on how far that tent stretches, and the group’s bid to join the Conference of Presidents proved no different.

The Forward reported that at an April 11 meeting during which J Street had failed to win the endorsement of a crucial committee for membership in the Conference, J Street was questioned over donations it has received from liberal billionaire George Soros—whose foundations have come under scrutiny for allegedly funding anti-Israel groups—and over the lobby’s support of the United Nations-sponsored Goldstone Report, which accused Israel of war crimes against the Palestinians. Furthermore, J Street was accused of collaborating with anti-Israel groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine.

Some Conference members were also troubled that J Street, if voted in, would have been the only organization in the Conference of Presidents that endorses or raises money for political candidates through a political action committee.

Andrea Levin—executive director of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, a Conference of Presidents member—told JNS.org that J Street is taking positions “totally out of sync with the Jewish mainstream,” noting its opposition to a 2011 congressional letter criticizing Palestinian incitement in the wake of the Itamar massacre that killed five members of an Israeli family, and more recently, its refusal to condemn the Fatah-Hamas unity deal.

In an op-ed for JNS.org last year, however, J Street Executive Director Jeremy Ben-Ami called his group’s position on Israel “the same as that of the Israeli government, the Obama administration and the vast bulk of the American Jewish community.”

“At the end of the day, J Street exists to help Israel reach the deal it needs and wants so much and which is so central to its future as a Jewish state and as a democracy,” wrote Ben-Ami, referring to a two-state solution, whose achievement is central to J Street’s stated mission.

Yet Sarah Stern—president of the Washington, DC-based Endowment for Middle East Truth think tank and policy group—believes members of Congress are often confused about where J Street stands on Israel. She noted that J Street “has consistently taken the same positions as the Council for American Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the National Iranian American Council (NIAC).” CAIR has been accused of being a front group for the Hamas terrorist group, and NIAC routinely takes anti-Israel positions.

“It’s hard enough for members of Congress to listen to a growing Muslim and Arab demographic, but when they have a Jewish constituency that is basically siding with the enemies of Israel, I think it’s extraordinarily deleterious for the Jewish community here in the U.S,” Stern told JNS.org.

Georgetown University professor and Middle East analyst Moran Stern, meanwhile, does not believe it is particularly relevant to be asking whether or not J Street is a “mainstream” American Jewish organization.

“The surge of J Street is a fact,” he said. “What the Conference of Presidents and other Jewish organizations in the U.S. that might have conflicting views on J Street are doing, and I think are doing very wisely, is they are identifying the surge of J Street. They recognize it and they adapt accordingly.”

Before Wednesday’s vote, a number of Conference of Presidents member groups publicly expressed their intent to support J Street’s application. Ameinu—which says its “connects liberal American Jews with a progressive Israel”—posted on Twitter, “Ameinu will vote for J Street’s inclusion in the Conf. of Presidents. They meet all of the requirements. Simple.” In a blog post for the Times of Israel, Union for Reform Judaism President Rabbi Rick Jacobs wrote that there should not be an “ideological litmus test” for joining the umbrella organization.

“If the Conference begins to limit its membership based on organizations’ views on specific policy issues, it ceases to represent the entire American Jewish community,” Jacobs wrote.

The leadership of Conservative Judaism’s congregational umbrella group echoed the call for accepting a diversity of views.

“The Conference of Presidents is designed as a forum in which the Jewish community, in all its diversity, can come together to discuss the major issues of the day and speak with world leaders and organizations as representatives of the Jewish people,” said United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism CEO Rabbi Steven Wernick and International President Richard Skolnik.

On the flip side, the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) campaigned aggressively against J Street’s bid. Ahead of the vote, ZOA distributed 18 bullet points for why it believed J Street should not be admitted to the Conference of Presidents, and issued press releases slamming J Street’s statements on the Palestinian unity deal and Secretary of State John Kerry’s remark warning that Israel could become an “apartheid state.”

Reacting to criticism of Kerry’s comments, J Street had said, “Instead of putting energy into attacking Secretary Kerry, those who are upset with the Secretary’s use of the term should put their energy into opposing and changing the policies that are leading Israel down this road.”

ZOA then said, “J Street has again demonstrated that it is an extremist group, hostile to Israel, by supporting Secretary of State John Kerry’s ‘apartheid’ accusation against Israel.”

Moran Stern, however, told JNS.org that from his observations of the culture of U.S. Jewish organizations, he has witnessed a “reservoir” of talented and educated young American Jews among the J Street ranks, and questioned the premise of abandoning that cadre of Israel advocates.

“The question is what do you do with that reservoir,” he said, explaining that leaving out J Street might “play into the hands of those who are anti-Israel because they will say, ‘Look at the Conference of Presidents that claims to be pro-Israel and pro-Jewish, and here there is a group like J Street that supports the two-state solution and all that, and when they try to be part of that club they are being denied.'”

The professor added that given J Street’s popularity on college campuses, it is important not to neglect those young American Jews who care about Israel but may have a different approach than traditional pro-Israel advocates.

“I think that while you may not accept certain ideas, J Street certainly doesn’t fall under this category,” he said. “They do not call for the one-state solution, for the destruction of Israel, for boycotting Israel. Quite on the contrary.”

But Dr. Charles Jacobs—president of Boston-based Americans for Peace and Tolerance, the group behind the new documentary “The J Street Challenge”—explained that J Street breaks a long-honored tradition between American Jews and Israel.

“[American Jews] can freely criticize Jewish leaders in Israel—we can do it publicly, but we who do not live there or have our children on the front lines do not have the right to use our American power to circumvent Israeli democracy, and to try to lobby to get an American administration to impose our views and policies on the Israelis. … J Street’s entire program is designed to break this longstanding agreement,” Jacobs told JNS.org.

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  • Kelly
  • Steven W

    Solid proof that the board consists of 22 people with integrity. Perhaps some of the others are just unable or worse, unwilling to see and acknowledged JStreet’s anti-Israel actions? It’s not what one says that matters, its whet they do.

  • Albert Cohen

    I totally agree with the gentleman who stated that every organization that voted for j-street to immedielely seize to exist.
    J-street is nothing but an evil force that should move to Teheran or Gaza.We Jews have enough
    Enemies. Please please no more j-street.Never again . Am Yisrael hay.

  • Armand Levy

    Great News we in Israel don’t need those “CAPOS” in our life….we better get them far away from us and never place our trust in them. We have enough enemies out there we really can do with out those self hatred.

  • Yenta Press

    “J street can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but J street can not fool all of the people all of the time.”

  • Stuart Kaufman

    “In a blog post for the Times of Israel, Union for Reform Judaism President Rabbi Rick Jacobs wrote that there should not be an “ideological litmus test” for joining the umbrella organization.
    “If the Conference begins to limit its membership based on organizations’ views on specific policy issues, it ceases to represent the entire American Jewish community,” Jacobs wrote.”

    Who is Jacobs to determine the appropriate representatives of the American Jewish community? The Reform movement read itself out of the Jewish community 40 years ago. They are a separate religion that has broken all ties with Judaism. They expropriated Jewish symbols and distorted them. Not only should J Street be excluded from the Conference of Presidents. The Reform movement has no business as a member of any Jewish organization that purports to represent the Jewish community.

  • thinkingman

    For those of us who puke every time we hear another stupid remark by j street or see them help SJP promote lies on campuses around the country this is a good day.

    • Bathsheva Gladstone

      I don’t think your statements are entirely accurate, nor are they constructive. There are quite a few Zionist Reform Jews and Rabbis. Instead of extrapolating separatist policies and ideologies, we should be promoting unity for both here and in Israel.

      We should not confuse the wide range of thought we have under the tent, for the destructiveness of Jstreet. And to throw into the pot, negative and hysterical recriminations to the few outliers as well as to throw a whole section of Jews under the bus, becomes redundant and unnecessary (and ultimately is self-defeating) due to the fact that “the umbrella group” offers a system of checks and balances as the voting No regarding jstreet proves.

  • Lawrence

    J Street is probably the most talented and craftily intelligent Popular Front effort to come around in a long time. How they spin that they represent a significant segment of the American Jewish population and support CAIR, Soros and Hamas and Fatah is proof of it.

    At any time, on any issue, J Street’s position is always the most Left. Not sometimes. Always. They leave no stone unturned – they support the boycott movement, they support the Fatah-Hamas pact

    Although it is possible that their statement they represent a significant section of American Jewish opinion
    might have some truth to it if they were thinking of the Weathermen when they said it.

  • Jaime XMarrano

    His wife needed a wig….

  • they say they’re in favor of 2-state solution, but everything they do pushes the palestinian one-state goal. their policy goals – get america to force israel back to green line – will encourage palestinians to go for more against a weakened israel. and their policy means – blacken israel’s reputation by giving voice to the most anti-israel voices that aren’t completely genocidal, thereby lessening support for her in US public and policy circles – do irreversible damage.
    they say they’re pro-peace, but “objectively” (as Marx would say) they’re pro-war, and rooting for israel’s enemies.
    the fact that so many great jewish minds cd be duped by so destructive an effort is testimony against the notion that jews are a) smart and b) clannish. on the contrary, no group has more people advocating against its own interests, and no group has a higher percentage of useful idiots than the jews.

  • Finally some common sense. Perhaps some of the conference members voting against may have even read the Kerry Middle East Competency Quiz

    http://www.madisdead.blogspot.co.il/2014/01/a-mini-5-1-question-quiz-for-secretary.html

  • JOHN TRAIN

    THE FIGHT IS NOT OVER …MAKE J ST RESPOND UNDER OATH..

    This letter was written to a well known Rabbi who is active at the highest level in the J St organization. The writer rejects the request to ” support J St and “free speech” and raises basic fundamental concerns relating to the activities of J St and J Street’s foreign, anti- Israel funding sources

    Dear Rabbi R_____,

     I was asked to provide a statement of support for J St.

      I am aware and how dedicated and passionate you are as a supporter of J St. I have great regard for you as a person and as a religious leader.

    As a public figure , it would not be appropriate for me to make any statement in this matter.

     However, I personally examined the pro J St listing of claimed advantages for Israel as well as an extensive  list of  charges that had been compiled against J street .

     When I checked out the actual facts on the ground,  I found many areas of concern. Two areas  -within my special expertise -were very troubling. Therefore, I suggest that you carefully explore , at least, the following two areas. 

              1.Most of the charges made against the IDF by J St. are highly inflammatory and false. Unfortunately, J Street has been a major contributor delegitimization of Israel through the spread of these false and malicious charges.

              2,The funding background of J Street is also very troubling. In addition to the well-known contributions of George Soros, foreign monies from Saudi Arabia and Qatar  and various parts of Europe appeared to be flowing into J Street.

    In the meantime, I enjoy reading your blogs and your sermons

    H_____

  • Harvey

    Kol Hakavod American Jewry

  • Sach ha’kol, at the end of it all, J Street – not unlike many NGO’s in Israel (New Israel Fund, as a main example) seeks to undermine Israel as a Jewish state. Period. And, this is not only unacceptable, within the big “Jewish tent”, but it is downright dangerous!
    http://www.adinakutnicki.com

  • CSBG

    Thank G-d is right! Now, educating the Jewish Community of all ages about JStreet, the history of Israel and the Jewish People- not only the Holocaust, if it is being taught, and
    the ethics, morals, and values of Judaism are essential. The JStreet campus adherents are rude, vicious, cruel, and debase themselves, regardless of their religion and background.
    There has to be a persistent campaign to change their behavior on campus. Their current behavior of intimidation tactics have to be answered with appropriate consequences. no other group outside of the Jews would put up with this. There is no reason to sit back and take it. This is 2014, and various ways of dealing with their tactics have to be developed and offered to the other jewish students on the campuses. The school administrations and Boards/Regents, have to be made to understand what is happening
    and that it cannot be tolerated at a place of education.

  • David

    It would be best if every organization that voted for J-Street to immediately seize to exist.

  • David

    Thankfully, there’s an Major Pro Israel organization like ZOA that strongly advocates against anti-Israel organizations such as J-Street.

  • Ronit Jacobs

    J Street is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. George Soros has made it clear that he is not an Israel supporter and neither are they.

  • Dr. Mohammad Ghafelebashi

    The J street group consist of a large of intelectuals ,educated,and religious Jews,who want to make a change the unjust policies of the present Isreale’s regime.
    This group wants to create peace ,and the respect for the human dignity for their
    Arabs neighbours. The old supper rich Jews in Washington do not want to hear
    the veiws of these youger progresive Jews population,and are only following the self
    promotional,and selfish policies of the past that they enjoined so long.
    I am an IV-league ,Ph.D. with in Physics,and a humanist like my great Professor ” Dear Albert Einstein”. who was always a peace activist in all his life.

    • Emanuel

      Dr. Anybody who is Ivy League educated can spell the words “super” and “Ivy”, but it seems you cannot. I am having serious doubts about everything you are saying aside from it being outright garbage.

  • Naftali

    Yes!!!!

  • drdon

    Baruch HaShem!!!

  • DITTO!, to all the above comments!

  • rulierose

    you know, I’ve always thought that self-hating Jews should have their own organization. I’m so glad J-Street is around to accommodate them! maybe they can all take a cruise together–no wait–I’ve got it–J-Street can sponsor a Gaza flotilla boat!

    seriously tho: I do not see any significant policy differences between J-Street and Fatah.

    thank you Conference of Presidents of Jewish Orgs for making the right decision.

    • Emanuel

      I think you are really on to something, I would make a donation to put them on a boat to Gaza! If they want to go I am sure the community can find a way to help them!

      • Armand Levy

        I am with you…..one condition I will pay on one way only.

  • E Pluribus Wombat

    thank god.

  • Emanuel

    Thank you, thank you, thank you to ALL WHO VOTED, thank you! J Street belongs in the garbage with every other criminal organization, scam or cult US government has shut down. Since the government won’t shut down this scam they perpetuate, it will be us. J Street, go back to the dumpster outside the White House where you were born and leave us alone in our own countries.

  • Yahooooo!!

  • mireille mechoullam

    Any organization that called itself Pro Israel but doesn’t act accordingly should not be allowed to be a member of the umbrella of Jewish organizations. J Street is funded by pro organizations that side with the enemy and get funds from the EU and individuals like George Soros.

  • Bathsheva Gladstone

    Awesome! A great relief!

  • AlanB

    Very good news

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