The left-wing lobby group J Street has a problem. On the one hand, their leadership has been trying hard to portray itself as just another liberal pro-Israel Jewish group that deserves a place at the communal table. On the other, the radical instincts of much of its leadership and many of its supporters are so alienated from mainstream Jewish opinion about Israel and the Middle East conflict, the organization often finds itself lurching about trying to square two points of view that are incompatible. J Street first condemned Israel’s counter-offensive against Hamas terror in December 2008 and then eventually backed away from that stand when they realized even Israeli leftists disagreed with them. Their positions on Iran sanctions have similarly wavered. And let’s not even get into their bizarre on-again-off-again lying about getting most of their funding from George Soros.
The latest example concerns a trip to Gaza by one of their founders and board members, New York lawyer Kathleen Peratis. Peratis is also co-chair of the Middle East and North Africa Advisory Committee of the viciously anti-Israel group Human Rights Watch. Peratis penned an article for the Forward published earlier this month in which she discussed her meetings with the Hamas terrorist group and tours of the tunnels by which Palestinians have smuggled arms and material into Gaza. In the piece, she not only failed to criticize Hamas or the tyrannical nature of the Islamist group’s reign over Gaza but also made clear her opposition to Israel’s policies and the blockade of the terrorist enclave. As for J Street, they didn’t send her to Gaza but, as the Washington Jewish Week reported, initially distributed copies of her piece to members of the group and the press via their daily news roundup. But a week later, after some criticism of the association with the group and Hamas began to percolate, J Street predictably folded, issuing a statement today distancing itself from Peratis’ conduct.
While J Street’s statement said a lot of the things you’d expect a normal pro-Israel group to say about Israel’s security and Hamas being the bad guys, you have to wonder about their sudden change of heart about Peratis’ Gaza hijinks. If there was nothing shocking about her conduct and statements a week ago when the group was highlighting her article as if it was a sign of J Street’s impressive public profile, then why are they now acting as if they are, like Captain Renault in the movie “Casablanca,” “shocked” to discover she’s been cozying up to Hamas?
Of course, for those who know little about J Street other than adulatory notices they get in the New York Times, the idea that there are overlapping memberships between the group and Human Rights Watch ought to be just as much of a shocker as Peratis’ sympathetic portrait of Hamas.
J Street wants the Jewish public to think of them as just a more liberal version of AIPAC that is as ardently supportive of Israel as the mainstream umbrella lobby group. But it’s hard to square that notion with the presence of someone like Peratis on their board or the fact that until they started to get hammered for it, they thought there was nothing wrong with someone so closely affiliated with their organization meeting with Hamas and writing of Gaza as an Israeli “prison” (as Peratis did earlier this year after another romp through the Hamas-run statelet).
J Street can’t have it both ways. If it really is “pro-Israel” and “pro-peace” (a distorted formulation based on the false assumption that those who oppose their calls for pressure on Israel to make even more concessions to the Palestinians don’t want peace) then they wouldn’t find themselves on the wrong side of most issues concerning the Jewish state or be forced to try and slink away from the embarrassing behavior of their leaders. A group whose instincts and leadership is as radical as someone like Peratis will never convince anyone they are merely a pro-Obama version of AIPAC.