J Street, which prides itself as the “pro-Israel, pro-Peace” movement, has organized an annual conference that shatters the validity of this characterization. By hosting speakers like political activist Mustafa Barghouti, a leader in the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement, and Michael Sfard, who promotes lawfare cases against Israeli officials, J Street demonstrates that the term “pro-peace” no longer applies
to the organization.
By opening its doors to “one-staters” and BDS activists, the organization has been left with no relevant identity and has disappointed individuals who wanted a strong, “center-left” voice on US-Israel-Palestinian relations.
A year and a half ago, J Street was in a different position. The October 2009 conference included center and center-left politicians and government officials. A total of 148 Members of Congress served on J Street’s host committee and 44 members of Congress attended the Gala Dinner. General Jim Jones, President Obama’s National Security Advisor, addressed the conference.
By Washington benchmarks, J Street was quickly achieving significant and mainstream influence. However, that conference also marked the beginning of political missteps and PR disasters, causing J Street to lose both momentum and key supporters.
In 2010, The Washington Times revealed that J street executive director Jeremy Ben-Ami lied about George Soros’s three-year, $750,000 contribution. J Street also lied about its role in facilitating “meetings between members of Congress and South African Judge Richard Goldstone”
to promote his report on the Gaza war. Notably, the report’s conclusions about casualty claims in Gaza have been discredited.
Similarly, careful research has revealed the true nature of many J Street partners: Anti-peace, anti-two-states. 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 against Israel, a movement whose leaders call for the elimination of Israel.
Later that year, J Street and J Street U organized a “number of events around the country featuring UNRWA’s Gaza Director John Ging, who expressed support for flotillas to Gaza one week before the “Free Gaza” flotilla initiated a violent confrontation with the Israeli navy, resulting in nine deaths.
J Street’s latest misstep – opposing an American veto of a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning Israel – caused Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-New York) to disassociate himself from the organization and note that J Street it not “a smart, credible, politically active organization that is as aggressively pro-peace as it is pro-Israel.”
Unfortunately, the 2011 conference speakers show who remains in J Street’s tent. Mustafa Barghouti takes part in BDS activities, uses “apartheid” and “ethnic cleansing” rhetoric, and refers to “Israeli Bantustans” and “Ghettos.” He also has proclaimed that “there’s no use in meetings with Israelis and there is no peace partner in Israel.”
Another speaker, Rebecca Vilkomerson of Jewish Voices for Peace (a misleading name in its own right), is actively involved in the BDS movement and vigorously defends the legitimacy of hate-filled, if not anti-Semitic, BDS campaigns. Vilkomerson also states that “Jewish Voice for Peace cannot be enthusiastic about US-brokered peace talks that actually perpetuate the occupation.”
J Street’s conference also will host Michael Sfard, the legal representative for Yesh Din, Breaking the Silence, and many other Israeli NGOs. Sfard promotes lawfare cases against Israeli officials, and has testified as a paid expert witness on behalf of the PLO in a lawsuit brought by victims of terror attacks perpetrated by the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. He also is a member of the “Support Committee” for the Russell Tribunal on Palestine, a mock court putting Israel and its allies “on trial.” The framework, in keeping with the “Durban strategy,” calls for “existing legal actions and campaigns in the context of BDS to be stepped up and widened within the EU and globally.” Sfard also “testified” at this kangaroo court.
These speakers and their organizations engage in activities that work against peace and mutual understanding. More specifically, they participate and advocate in the de-legitimization campaign conceptualized at the 2001 Durban Conference. Ironically, J Street claims to oppose this campaign, but now provides a platform for its leaders.
J Street’s conference is the manifestation of its trend towards these fringe positions, thus forcing out Rep. Ackerman and many others who shared his views on the US-Israel relationship. The conference has been relegated to a gathering of Jeremy Ben-Ami’s NGO network, including New Israel Fund, where he served as communications director, and Yesh Din, with which he is closely associated.
J Street’s tag line led with “pro-Israel,” but was most identifiable with the “pro-peace” camp. J Street should reach out to members of Congress and others in the pro-Israel community and state that it no longer will build relationships and provide credibility to Israel’s de-legitimizers. There is nothing wrong with being “pro-Israel, pro-Peace.” J Street is neither.
Jason Edelstein is communications director of Jerusalem based-research institution NGO Monitor