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More Ethics Troubles for J Street President

It looks like the left-wing “pro-Israel” group J Street can now add “self-dealing” to its growing list of scandals. Documents obtained by the Washington Times reveal that the group paid at least $56,000 to Ben-Or Consulting, an Israeli firm co-owned by J Street president Jeremy Ben-Ami. This discovery isn’t as juicy as some of the previous ones — it’s hard to top lying about taking money from George Soros and aiding congressional visits for Judge Richard Goldstone. But it certainly confirms the group’s aversion to ethics and truth-telling:

“Even if it’s technically legal, it gets very messy when you have these sorts of deals going on because, if you’re going to benefit on the other end of it, be it 100 percent or 5 percent, it raises questions about objectivity and the arms’ length in the transaction,” said Ken Berger, president of Charity Navigator.

“If you want your organization to use a particular company, ideally there would be a clean break one way or the other. So you would either sell off your interest in that company or step down from the board during the period of time when this is going so that there would be no question as to what’s going on in the boardroom.”

Ben-Ami co-founded the firm more than a decade ago but left in 2000. He still owns 15 percent of the company, which is clearly not a trifling portion. And while there’s no indication that his actions were illegal, there’s also no denying that Ben-Ami had a financial interest in the decision to use Ben-Or Consulting. Even if he doesn’t currently collect dividends (which the Times was unable to confirm), he still has a financial stake if and when the company gets sold.

Obviously, it wouldn’t be a J Street scandal without some amusingly evasive double-talk from Ben-Ami, who told the Times that “as a token of my role as a co-founder, we left 15 percent of the shares of the firm in my name — an agreement that has no financial implications for me personally, for J Street or for the firm.”

Seriously? No financial implications? Maybe he should have coordinated that response with Ben-Or Consulting, which pretty much contradicted Ben-Ami’s claim. “[Ben-Ami] would receive 15 percent of the proceeds if the firm is ever sold,” a spokesperson from the firm told the Times.

It also looks like Ben-Or Consulting has some notorious Israel-bashers as clients. The company’s website boasts that it represents former president Jimmy Carter, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, and Yesh Din — all of which accuse Israel of promoting “apartheid” policies. But these are also just the clients that Ben-Or lists publicly. J Street is conspicuously absent from the list, so it wouldn’t be shocking if we learned that the names of some other clients were withheld as well.