By: Morton A. Klein
October 20, 2009
J Street’s Ben Ami Worked For Firm That Helped Set Up Anti-Israel Campus Campaign
Further alarming evidence J Street
not a pro-Israel organization
The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) has pointed to J Street director Jeremy Ben Ami’s past employment with a communications firm that assisted a Qatari foundation to mount an anti-Israel campaign on university campuses as further, alarming evidence that J Street, which bills itself as a “pro-Israel” organization, is not pro-Israel.
According to former Israeli diplomat and communications consultant Lenny Ben-David, writing in Pajamas Media, Ben Ami served as senior vice-president of Fenton Communications which, in March 2009, signed contracts with a Qatari foundation to lead an 18-month long anti-Israel campaign in the United States with a special focus on university campuses. The actual text of the contract called for “An international public opinion awareness campaign that advocates for the accountability of those who participated in attacks against schools in Gaza.” It is not known if Ben-Ami severed his ties with Fenton in 2008 to take up his position with the then-newly formed J Street, whether he retained any role or holdings in Fenton thereafter or whether he was aware of the negotiations or the contract signed on March 12, 2009 with the Qatari foundation mounting the anti-Israel campaign. If so, J Street’s refusal to support Israel’s military operations against Hamas in December 2008-January 2009 – a position that diverges from the support for such operations given even by Israeli far leftists like former Meretz leader, Yossi Beilin – might well have been influenced by Ben Ami’s Fenton connection. (Fenton’s promotional material claims: “We only represent people and projects we believe in”).
Ben-David also poses the relevant question whether J Street’s refusal to condemn the U.N. Goldstone Report on Gaza, had anything to do with Fenton; or whether Fenton had anything to do with J Street’s support for Rep. Donna Edwards, who refused to sign a congressional resolution supporting Israeli actions in Gaza. Importantly, Ben-David also reveals that Ben-Ami has falsely claimed that J Street has only about five Arab and Muslim donors, when in fact the U.S. Federal Election Commission shows more than 30 such contributors, many with ties to Arab-American organizations. Also, Ben Ami’s original claim that “at most 3 percent” of J Street’s donors were Arab or Muslim is now conceded to be closer to 10 percent.
J Street has attracted Israeli speakers who are all far-left political figures, like Ami Ayalon, Colette Avital, Amir Peretz, Shlomo Ben-Ami, Yuli Tamir, Amnon Lipkin-Shahak ,all of whom have failed to secure support from the Israeli electorate or even from their own parties. Instead, they have embarked on the decidedly anti-democratic approach of seeking to have their ideas endorsed in Washington rather than Jerusalem, so Israel may be pressured to conform to their ideas. Even here, three J Street speakers – two retired senior leftist Israel Defense Forces (IDF) officers, Maj. Gen. (res) Danny Rothschild and Brig. Gen. Israela Oron, as well as Labor MK Ophir Pines-Paz – have all ended up publicly differing with J Street, respectively, on J Street’s support for a total Jewish construction freeze in eastern Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria; its opposition to any timetable for imposing sanctions on Iran if it fails to stop its drive towards obtaining nuclear weapons; and its disagreement with Israel over the danger posed to Israel by a nuclear armed Iran. J Street has also produced a YouTube video which purports to show prominent Israelis speaking in support of J Street when in fact, of the eleven interviewed, only three mention J Street at all, one of whom – Colette Avital – is a J Street employee (Lenny Ben-David, ‘Showdown on J Street,’ Pajamas Media, October 20, 2009).
ZOA National President Morton A. Klein said, “ZOA has been concerned for some time with the many and varied false and misleading claims made by J Street regarding its bona fides as a genuine pro-Israel organization. In the context of J Street’s upcoming Conference, even the leaders of Israel’s opposition Kadima Party have reportedly refused to attend. While on that subject, it has also been reported that Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) and Representatives Michael McCaul (R-TX) and Leonard Boswell (D-IA), have all asked to have their names removed from the J Street host committee to which they had originally signed up.
“ZOA has pointed previously to the fact that J Street, contrary to its insistent claims, is not representative of the majority opinion of American Jews or even of the majority of liberal, Democratic Party supporting American Jews, as detailed surveys we cited show. We have also pointed out that J Street has made false and misleading claims that its policy positions enjoy majority support among Israelis when in fact the opposite is the case. More recently, it invited as a keynote speaker for its upcoming conference Salam Al-Marayati, someone who has called for Israel’s destruction, stating that ‘the establishment by force, violence and terrorism of a Jewish state in Palestine in 1948’ was ‘unjust’ and ‘a crime,’ and who has vowed to ‘work to overturn the injustice.’
“J Street has repeatedly shown itself to be an organization that has eschewed mainstream, bipartisan positions held by the majority of Israelis and American Jews, such as supporting Israel’s military operation in Gaza earlier this year and even the imposition of strong sanctions on Iran if it does not cease its march towards obtaining nuclear weapons. That latter position is in stark contrast to the attitude of even Israeli hard leftists like former Meretz leader Yossi Beilin.
“It is past time for the charade that J Street is genuinely pro-Israel and supportive of the majority positions of Israelis and American Jews to be exposed and laid to rest.”