Commentary Magazine


Topic: J Street

The Bankruptcy of Beinart Inc.

Peter Beinart, aspirant to the pedestal of liberal Zionism and prospective successor to Tony Judt, is witnessing the unravelling of his carefully choreographed arrangement. It was going so well: on the heels of his infamous article in the New York Review of Books came the commission to expand the thesis into a book, and, with the assistance of an army of interns and researchers, The Crisis of Zionism was released at the annual J Street conference and with an article in the New York Times, and, to accompany this momentous event, with the inauguration of a new blog, Zion Square, which would alter the discourse on Zionism in the American Jewish community. And he, with a righteous cause and the reward of royalties, would be at the forefront.

So far, so bold.

Unfortunately for Beinart, however, even the blueprint, much less the execution, was ill-conceived. To begin with, the book itself has received scathing reviews (see for instance, Sol Stern’s take in this month’s COMMENTARY, as well as here, here, here, and here). There is no need to rehearse their salient criticisms, except to note that between the article and the book, Beinart altered one of his key theses, namely, that it was not Israeli policies which were alienating American Jews, as he had earlier claimed, but rather intermarriage among the latter which was alienating them from the Jewish community, and consequently from Israel. Read More

Peter Beinart, aspirant to the pedestal of liberal Zionism and prospective successor to Tony Judt, is witnessing the unravelling of his carefully choreographed arrangement. It was going so well: on the heels of his infamous article in the New York Review of Books came the commission to expand the thesis into a book, and, with the assistance of an army of interns and researchers, The Crisis of Zionism was released at the annual J Street conference and with an article in the New York Times, and, to accompany this momentous event, with the inauguration of a new blog, Zion Square, which would alter the discourse on Zionism in the American Jewish community. And he, with a righteous cause and the reward of royalties, would be at the forefront.

So far, so bold.

Unfortunately for Beinart, however, even the blueprint, much less the execution, was ill-conceived. To begin with, the book itself has received scathing reviews (see for instance, Sol Stern’s take in this month’s COMMENTARY, as well as here, here, here, and here). There is no need to rehearse their salient criticisms, except to note that between the article and the book, Beinart altered one of his key theses, namely, that it was not Israeli policies which were alienating American Jews, as he had earlier claimed, but rather intermarriage among the latter which was alienating them from the Jewish community, and consequently from Israel.

Next, the J Street conference itself was something of a sham, and the first Israeli diplomat to attend in two years – Israel’s deputy ambassador to the United States – slammed the group, calling on it to change its ways and ‘‘stand with us.’’ A harsher critique of a self-described ‘‘pro-Israel’’ group would be hard to find; perhaps that’s why J Street removed the speech from the group’s official record. Beinart, though, still had his backers, including one Lara Friedman, an activist with Americans for Peace Now, who recently discovered (to no effect) the Arabs do not reciprocate her goodwill.

Beinart’s accompanying op-ed at the New York Times calling for a ‘‘Zionist BDS’’ to save Israel’s democracy from the ‘‘nondemocratic’’ Israeli presence in Judea and Samaria was also panned – immediately by the Israeli ambassador, Michael Oren, and then by everyone else in the Jewish community, including J Street! Apparently, Beinart missed the BDS memo: even sympathizers now see its faults, and examples abound of the failure to do precisely what Beinart prescribes: differentiate boycotts of Judea and Samaria from those of the rest of Israel.

Finally, Zion Square, barely a month old, has (a bit embarrassingly) become Open Zion, in response to a similar blog of the same name launched somewhat pre-emptively. And now one of its few moderate, best credentialed, and less outspoken bloggers, Dr Yoel Finkelman, has, with a public letter at Jewish Ideas Daily, resigned his charge as a regular contributor, in protest of the blog’s content, style, and agenda.

And so, the crisis of Zionism emerges as comparatively chimerical, and the crisis of Beinart – and of Beinart Inc. – is unfolding before us. Like Zion’s many other critics, perhaps he’ll go on to blame the Israel Lobby. Alternatively – and hopefully – he’ll revise his viewpoint and finish this farce.

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J Street Evangelicals Use Conference To Push Anti-Semitic Tropes

As this year’s J Street conference begins, I’ve obtained a speech from last year’s—from a conference panel called “Working with Christian Communities Towards a Room Two-State Solution.” The speaker in question is Serge Duss, Director of the New Century Evangelicals Project, and the theory at issue is that modern Jews are not descended from Biblical Jews:

The misconception that most Evangelicals have, particularly conservative Evangelicals – I consider myself a progressive Evangelical – is what we learned in Sunday school. And what we learned in Sunday school about the Old Testament and particularly King David, we have carried forward three, four, five thousands years, where there is a belief that the modern state of Israel and modern Israelis are the extension of the Children of Israel of the Old Testament. You, only you – I can’t, but only you can disabuse Evangelicals of that mythology. How many rabbis I’ve heard say in settings, ‘We are not the Hebrews, the Children of Israel of the Old Testament’? And unless conservative Evangelicals particularly hear that message from Jews in America today and Israelis in Israel, minds will not be changed.

Under the most innocent reading Duss was merely calling for J Street’s Jewish attendees to use their Jewish identity to undermine support for Israel. That would be a telling advocacy, and here it’s worth noting that J Street organizers appreciated Duss so much that they brought him back this year. Instead of trying to expand the pro-Israel tent to include more people, J Street seems committed to isolating Israel and Israelis by undermining existing their support from American Jews and Christians.

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As this year’s J Street conference begins, I’ve obtained a speech from last year’s—from a conference panel called “Working with Christian Communities Towards a Room Two-State Solution.” The speaker in question is Serge Duss, Director of the New Century Evangelicals Project, and the theory at issue is that modern Jews are not descended from Biblical Jews:

The misconception that most Evangelicals have, particularly conservative Evangelicals – I consider myself a progressive Evangelical – is what we learned in Sunday school. And what we learned in Sunday school about the Old Testament and particularly King David, we have carried forward three, four, five thousands years, where there is a belief that the modern state of Israel and modern Israelis are the extension of the Children of Israel of the Old Testament. You, only you – I can’t, but only you can disabuse Evangelicals of that mythology. How many rabbis I’ve heard say in settings, ‘We are not the Hebrews, the Children of Israel of the Old Testament’? And unless conservative Evangelicals particularly hear that message from Jews in America today and Israelis in Israel, minds will not be changed.

Under the most innocent reading Duss was merely calling for J Street’s Jewish attendees to use their Jewish identity to undermine support for Israel. That would be a telling advocacy, and here it’s worth noting that J Street organizers appreciated Duss so much that they brought him back this year. Instead of trying to expand the pro-Israel tent to include more people, J Street seems committed to isolating Israel and Israelis by undermining existing their support from American Jews and Christians.

But there’s very little innocent here. Denying the connection between ancient and modern Jews is, according to conspiracy theory expert Bob Blaskiewicz, “a precursor to the type of rationalization of Christian Identity theology, that the ‘Jews’ are imposters claiming the Chosen People status properly owned by the white American Christian male.” It’s a scientifically disproven canard that anti-Semites have used for centuries to disinherit Jews theologically and politically.

At its most explicit, the theory holds that contemporary Jews are descendents of non-Semitic Khazars who converted to Judaism. The Anti-Defamation League has an extended backgrounder on how the claim has played out in modern anti-Semitic movements. You can find it in the wild on Holocaust-denying WWII revisionist sites, in the forums of Protocols-obsessed David Icke, and on one of the Internet’s most notorious conspiracy theory cesspools. Note how quickly the writers transition from the theory itself into how it undermines the legitimacy of the Jewish State.

Duss’s notion that “modern Israelis are [not] the extension of the Children of Israel of the Old Testament” has entered the leftwing anti-Israel evangelical world via at least two routes. Among Christian Palestinians the Khazar theory has long been promoted by Mazin Qumsiyeh, who is heavily tied to the anti-Israel Arab Christian circuit. In the United States it was picked up by the Israel-Palestine Mission Network, a particularly nasty organ of the Presbyterian Church USA, and inserted into booklets based on a 2008 book by Israeli professor Shlomo Sand. From Sand it hopped elsewhere in the evangelical world, until by 2010 you had Palestinian Lutheran minister Mitri Raheb declaring at an evangelical conference that he’s descended from King David while Netanyahu has no Jewish blood and “comes from an East European tribe who converted to Judaism in the Middle Ages.”

Duss was a little ambiguous in his J Street speech, so no one knows whether he was specifically gesturing toward the Khazar theory and its political implications. It’s not impossible that Duss was just being metaphorical. Instead of intentionally using an anti-Semitic dog whistle to undermine American evangelical support for Israel, he would have been vaguely invoking a classically anti-Semitic trope to undermine American evangelical support of Israel.

Either way, by the standard J Street president Jeremy Ben-Ami set when he condemned the imagery in Netanyahu’s AIPAC speech, even metaphorical anti-Semitism would still leave J Street deeply complicit.

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J Street Failure Reflected at Conference

J Street is holding their annual policy conference this weekend, and the group duly requested speakers from the White House and the Israeli embassy in Washington DC. The results are unspinnable. The Israelis let J Street cool its heels until this week before dispatching deputy chief of mission Barukh Binah. Binah recently concluded a stint in Jerusalem as a Foreign Ministry deputy director-general, in which capacity he publicly castigated J Street for dishonestly manufacturing an anti-Israel publicity stunt, then building an entire media campaign around the stunt, then fabricating an Israeli apology related to the stunt. Sending him to be the embassy’s speaker was not the world’s most subtle move. The White House’s announcement of its surrogate, the vice president’s national security adviser Tony Blinken, left Ben-Ami bitterly complaining that the choice was a snub. He’s right. Blinken, for all that he is an experienced hand, is several rungs below U.S. National Security Adviser Jim Jones, who appeared at the first J Street conference and left J Street boosters musing about the group’s potential power.

J Street has gone from fantasies of being the anti-AIPAC to complaining publicly about its diminished influence. The spiral was a function of many things, but mostly of the group aggressively pushing counterproductive, failed, and toxic policies in Israel, in Congress, and in the media.

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J Street is holding their annual policy conference this weekend, and the group duly requested speakers from the White House and the Israeli embassy in Washington DC. The results are unspinnable. The Israelis let J Street cool its heels until this week before dispatching deputy chief of mission Barukh Binah. Binah recently concluded a stint in Jerusalem as a Foreign Ministry deputy director-general, in which capacity he publicly castigated J Street for dishonestly manufacturing an anti-Israel publicity stunt, then building an entire media campaign around the stunt, then fabricating an Israeli apology related to the stunt. Sending him to be the embassy’s speaker was not the world’s most subtle move. The White House’s announcement of its surrogate, the vice president’s national security adviser Tony Blinken, left Ben-Ami bitterly complaining that the choice was a snub. He’s right. Blinken, for all that he is an experienced hand, is several rungs below U.S. National Security Adviser Jim Jones, who appeared at the first J Street conference and left J Street boosters musing about the group’s potential power.

J Street has gone from fantasies of being the anti-AIPAC to complaining publicly about its diminished influence. The spiral was a function of many things, but mostly of the group aggressively pushing counterproductive, failed, and toxic policies in Israel, in Congress, and in the media.

Israelis were always skeptical of J Street, even as the group was embraced by the Obama White House as the President’s anti-Israel enabler. Israeli embassy officials declared that J Street was damaging Israel, was “a unique problem,” and was “fooling around” with Israeli lives. When J Street’s founder and president Jeremy Ben-Ami publicly insisted upon Ambassador Oren’s presence at the group’s first conference he was rebuffed, leading Ben-Ami’s White House allies to attack Israel over the snub in Israeli media outlets (reports from the conference justified Israeli skepticism). Last year Israel’s minister for public diplomacy and Diaspora affairs flatly called J Street anti-Israel. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu won’t take meetings with the group’s delegations.

In the meantime J Street’s public campaigns – many implemented with tone-deafness and some with frankly shocking incompetence – eroded its Congressional support.

Its embrace of Richard Goldstone was followed by a fumbled cover-up. Its support of anti-Israel U.N. campaigns triggered a fistfight with Congressional allies. Its defense of anti-Semitic rhetoric is seeping in this weekend’s conference. Its coordination with pro-Iran lobbies has been unreal. Its stance on Cast Lead angered Israeli victims’ organizations..

J Street officials got caught misleading reporters on overseas Arab and Muslim funding and then launched a clumsy spin campaign. Then they got caught misleading other reporters about Soros funding and launched another clumsy spin campaign. When the group did its fundraising in public it was for yet another effort to pressure Obama into pressuring Israel.

On a smaller scale J Street launched campaigns to defend anti-Israel media campaigns and anti-Israel art and anti-Israel artists. Its PR flak defended Mary Robinson. It brought into the fold an apologist for the Muslim students who went after Ambassador Oren at UC Irvine. A J Street delegation held meetings with Palestinian diplomats in Ramallah on the eve of Holocaust Memorial Day over Israeli objections and then Ben-Ami bragged about the trip in the Jerusalem Post. One of their board members met with Hamas.

Unsurprisingly the group has become toxic in Congress. Associating with J Street costs votes and chills relationships.

As a small example: last year some House Republicans threatened to defund the Palestinian Authority. The move was opposed with various degrees of publicity by Democrats, the White House, and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. J Street ostentatiously launched a three-month public campaign to push back, which culminated in 44 Democratic signatures on a letter. 44 is 10 fewer Democrats than J Street secured for far more controversial 2010 letter calling on Obama to pressure Israel on the Gaza siege, which J Street had to lobby for by proxy.

This time J Street was too weak to directly push on an open door in Congress. The White House and its political liaisons undoubtedly noted as much.

J Street and other anti-Israel Jewish groups will never totally collapse. They will always have a constituency, and that constituency will always pretend that they’re on the cusp of influencing the policy discussion. But everyone else seems to be tired of pretending that J Street is anything but a particularly elegant case study of how fringe progressive collapses under its own weight.

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J Street Defends OWS’s Anti-Semitism

It’s always difficult to untangle when J Street officials actually believe in the anti-Israel policies and anti-Semitic rhetoric that they push and defend, and when they’re just following the commands of donors. The group’s president Jeremy Ben-Ami raised eyebrows by voluntarily injecting himself on the side of anti-Jewish language during the “Israel-Firster” debate, and then later it turned out that J Street had a potential financial incentive to take that stance. On the other hand the group and its partisans seem genuinely enthused about rolling out the red carpet for Peter Beinart and his exhortation to economically suffocate Israelis who don’t live where he tells them. As for J Street’s call on Obama to pressure Israel in the aftermath of the Flotilla even though the Israelis were in the right on self-defense, that simply had an incoherence borne of conflicted priorities.

So it’s impossible to know which dynamic — donor pressure or personal passion — was at work when J Street officials defended Occupy Wall Street from criticism of its disgraceful and extensively documented anti-Semitism. In favor of the donor theory, there’s the fact that J Street funder George Soros backed Occupy. On the side of the labor of love theory, there turn out to be deep sociological, institutional, and personal ties between pro-Occupy radicals and J Street officials – so much so that those radicals are now officially “partnering” with J Street on this weekend’s conference. Read More

It’s always difficult to untangle when J Street officials actually believe in the anti-Israel policies and anti-Semitic rhetoric that they push and defend, and when they’re just following the commands of donors. The group’s president Jeremy Ben-Ami raised eyebrows by voluntarily injecting himself on the side of anti-Jewish language during the “Israel-Firster” debate, and then later it turned out that J Street had a potential financial incentive to take that stance. On the other hand the group and its partisans seem genuinely enthused about rolling out the red carpet for Peter Beinart and his exhortation to economically suffocate Israelis who don’t live where he tells them. As for J Street’s call on Obama to pressure Israel in the aftermath of the Flotilla even though the Israelis were in the right on self-defense, that simply had an incoherence borne of conflicted priorities.

So it’s impossible to know which dynamic — donor pressure or personal passion — was at work when J Street officials defended Occupy Wall Street from criticism of its disgraceful and extensively documented anti-Semitism. In favor of the donor theory, there’s the fact that J Street funder George Soros backed Occupy. On the side of the labor of love theory, there turn out to be deep sociological, institutional, and personal ties between pro-Occupy radicals and J Street officials – so much so that those radicals are now officially “partnering” with J Street on this weekend’s conference.

Most likely it was a little of Column A and a little of Column B, with J Street officials being genuinely sympathetic but wary about the optics of supporting yet another group of anti-Semites.

The debate revolves around a statement by self-declared “Jewish leaders” who, per the statement title, set out to “Denounce Right-Wing Smears of Occupy Wall Street.” The piece specifically attacked the Emergency Committee for Israel, a J Street  bête noire and a major force behind the electoral wipe out of J Street candidates in the 2010 election. Ben-Ami’s name was one of about a dozen on the bottom of the statement, and the press contact for the entire release was J Street VP Carinne Luck.

The upcoming conference will have a core, recognized, pro-Occupy new media presence. The leftwing Jewschool site recently announced that it was going to “partner with J Street” on the conference, including dispatching sponsored bloggers to cover the events. Jewschool actively pushed Occupy and continues to do so, with the most recent sympathetic post getting published just last week. “We are the 99%,” declared another post. An admittedly inaccurate Google site search for “occupy wall street” turns up over 700 hits.

It turns out that J Street officials and Jewschool officials have demonstrably been cooperating to insulate Occupy. For instance, an early version of J Street’s toe-in-the-water press release was published on a site called Occupy Judaism (later versions had additional press contacts). Daniel Sieradski, founding publisher and former editor-in-chief of Jewschool owns the site. I’d direct you to the original statement on Sieradski’s site but the whole blog was taken down some time this morning, after I searched for it and found it last night. Luckily it’s still cached here.

J Street officials and Jewschool activists have long worked together to paper over the anti-Semitism of Occupy Wall Street, albeit sometimes with each being once removed from their home organizations. It would be hard to think of two more appropriate “partners” for the J Street conference.

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Smear Supporters to Get Hearing at J Street

Even J Street critics were baffled last January when the group’s founder and President Jeremy Ben-Ami more or less randomly decided to defend “Israel-Firster” rhetoric against pro-Israel Americans. The term was condemned as anti-Semitic by the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, and the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and its use by Center for American Progress contributors eventually caused the White House to distance itself from the organization. Self-professed pro-J Street blogger Jeffrey Goldberg expressed himself “surprised” by Ben-Ami’s stance.

The mystery became somewhat less mysterious after Alana pointed out a potential financial incentive behind J Street’s position, connecting J Street with groups that use the term. The link helps explain why mere hours after publicly walking back Ben-Ami’s statements, J Street took to Facebook to blast Sheldon Adelson as an “Israel-Firster” and to push a piece attacking anti-Semitism watchdogs for “Likudnik Paranoia.”

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Even J Street critics were baffled last January when the group’s founder and President Jeremy Ben-Ami more or less randomly decided to defend “Israel-Firster” rhetoric against pro-Israel Americans. The term was condemned as anti-Semitic by the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, and the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and its use by Center for American Progress contributors eventually caused the White House to distance itself from the organization. Self-professed pro-J Street blogger Jeffrey Goldberg expressed himself “surprised” by Ben-Ami’s stance.

The mystery became somewhat less mysterious after Alana pointed out a potential financial incentive behind J Street’s position, connecting J Street with groups that use the term. The link helps explain why mere hours after publicly walking back Ben-Ami’s statements, J Street took to Facebook to blast Sheldon Adelson as an “Israel-Firster” and to push a piece attacking anti-Semitism watchdogs for “Likudnik Paranoia.”

Given where the organization ended up — not only smearing Jewish groups as feverish Israel Lobby mouthpieces, but actively throwing around anti-Semitic language — it’s no wonder that the upcoming 2012 J Street Conference is stacked with defenders of those kinds of conspiracy theories and that kind of rhetoric.

Sarah Posner and Sarah Wildman, who each attacked anti-Semitism concerns in print and then on a bloggheads.tv episode, are on the speakers’ list. Ditto for Eric Alterman, who declared himself “uncomfortable” with anti-Semitic language but insisted that conspiracy theories about dual loyalists are true of a “great many people.” Ditto for Ari Rabin-Havt, who considers concerns about the term to be right-wing trolling. Ditto for Geneive Abdo, whose feverish conspiracy theories are frankly weird. And so on.

All of which is by way of saying: lots of people have pointed out how risible it is for J Street to claim to speak for a silent majority of Jewish Americans, given that their conference will promote Peter Beinart’s work in the face of an impressively broad beat-down. But let’s not forget that J Street also promotes plenty of other disgraceful positions that are also also rejected by huge majorities in the American-Jewish community.

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J Street’s False Foundational Myth

The Alienation Thesis or the Distancing Thesis or the Detachment Thesis or whatever we’re calling it this week — the claim American Jews are increasingly estranged from Israel because of Israeli policies — is the central dogma of the anti-Israel left. If it’s true then groups like J Street are engaged in the salutary work of broadening pro-Israel Jewish politics to include traditionally anti-Israel positions. If it’s false then those groups are taking Jews who would have ended up with muddy pro-Israel sentiments and are needlessly bombarding them with anti-Israel propaganda. “Alienation” or “distancing” or “detachment” is the argumentative premise at the source of everything that happens downstream.

It’s not an accident that sophisticated erstwhile J Street defenders like Jeffrey Goldberg instinctively throw it in whenever they try to defend the organization. J Street itself, for all of the organization’s borderline aggressive lack of tactical acumen, makes a point of blandly asserting that the thesis is true. Hand wringing pathos-soaked “why must Israel do things that make me sad” Jews like Peter Beinart have been blandly pretending it’s valid for the better part of a decade.

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The Alienation Thesis or the Distancing Thesis or the Detachment Thesis or whatever we’re calling it this week — the claim American Jews are increasingly estranged from Israel because of Israeli policies — is the central dogma of the anti-Israel left. If it’s true then groups like J Street are engaged in the salutary work of broadening pro-Israel Jewish politics to include traditionally anti-Israel positions. If it’s false then those groups are taking Jews who would have ended up with muddy pro-Israel sentiments and are needlessly bombarding them with anti-Israel propaganda. “Alienation” or “distancing” or “detachment” is the argumentative premise at the source of everything that happens downstream.

It’s not an accident that sophisticated erstwhile J Street defenders like Jeffrey Goldberg instinctively throw it in whenever they try to defend the organization. J Street itself, for all of the organization’s borderline aggressive lack of tactical acumen, makes a point of blandly asserting that the thesis is true. Hand wringing pathos-soaked “why must Israel do things that make me sad” Jews like Peter Beinart have been blandly pretending it’s valid for the better part of a decade.

Except it’s false. It’s so false that when you unpack it into constituent parts it’s false in multiple distinct and borderline contradictory ways, none of which manage to cancel each other out. In the most generous case J Street-style partisans assume American Jews are alienated from Israel because all the American Jews they personally know are alienated from Israel (figuring out the precise degree to which that’s breathtakingly revelatory is left as an exercise for the reader). In the less generous case they’re hoping against hope that no one ever scrutinizes their pretexts for uniquely mainstreaming anti-Israel smears into the American Jewish community.

Fundamentally there are two claims being made by J Street and their ilk. The first is that American Jews are increasingly estranged from Israel, which is a flatly empirical claim. The second is that American Jews’ ostensibly increasing estrangement is on account of Israeli policies, which is a causal claim. Neither is tenable.

On the latter question of causality, let’s put aside the overarching silliness of pretending that railing against real and imagined Israeli sins will somehow make conference attendees more sympathetic to Israel. J Street’s subtler causal claim is about the source of alienation – Israeli policies – rather than what might solve it. But they’re making that up.

We’ve known for years that identification with Israel varies with Jewish identification. Especially for younger Jews, it’s a consequence of Jewish identity not its cause, which is why Beinart’s implicit claim otherwise triggered extensive on-point blogging on the link between Zionism and different strains of Judaism. Even Beinart, in contrast to J Street, has given up the ghost on there being a link between political views and emotional ties to Israel — which is only fair inasmuch as the best studies say no link exists:

On the right, in particular, writers describe the recent successes of J Street as an indicator of Jewish alienation from Israel (there is no evidence that it is so). The left also promotes the distancing narrative but mainly as a political weapon against Israeli government policies, which are described as alienating the next generation from Zionist and Jewish identities. Add to the mix the perennial interest of Jewish organizations in fundraising and you have a very potent set of interests driving the distancing narrative.

If there was decreasing American-Jewish attachment to Israel — i.e. the basic empirical claim, which is false — it still wouldn’t be because of Israeli policies. But there isn’t. In January Matthew Ackerman posted numbers on young Jewish identification that showed that a “feeling of attachment to the Jewish state is at least as strong among young Jews as it is for older Jews [and] has been gaining traction of late.” As for American Jews of all ages, AJC polling shows that pro-Israel attachment hasn’t changed in a decade. When asked how close they feel to Israel, between 65% and 75% of American Jews respond “very close” or “fairly close” (2011: 68%, 2010: 74%, 2009: 69%, 2008: 67%, 2007: 70%, 2006: 76%, 2005: 77%, 2004: 75%, 2003: 74%, 2002: 73%, 2001: 72%).

A 2011 poll of American Jewish voters unpacked that support in terms of concrete positions: 93% of respondents were concerned that Israel is “being threatened by Arab nations and Iran that want to destroy Israel,” 81% were opposed to “Israel being forced to return to its pre-1967 borders,” 73% supported Jerusalem “remaining the united capital of Israel,” and, critically, 88% of respondents insisted that “recognition of Israel as a Jewish State” had to be a “prerequisite for Palestinian Statehood.” Media outlets continue unblinkingly assert otherwise – see Jonathan’s post from yesterday on Iran polling – but that doesn’t make their oh-so-convenient wishful thinking any less false.

That poll was largely in line with a CAMERA poll taken about the same time. When asked, “If Israel no longer existed tomorrow, I would consider it to be…” 58% of American Jews answered “a major tragedy that personally concerned me” and another 24% went further and described it as “the biggest tragedy of my lifetime.” Again alienation pushers like Nicholas Kristof kept writing as if the CAMERA poll and several others didn’t exist, because why not?

Perhaps most critically, CAMERA poll respondents did not believe — as J Street pretends American Jews do — that Israel was responsible for the breakdown of the peace process. Instead they indicated that the Israeli government (84%) and its people (85%) are committed to establishing genuine peace, and a large majority blamed Palestinian incitement for the deadlock (77%).

Only 12% of respondents thought that either settlements or the “occupation” were responsible, which is exactly the opposite of what J Street pretends American Jews believe. There’s a reason, after all, why Obama lost almost half of his Jewish support at the height of his diplomatic offensives on settlement construction. It’s not because Jews feel alienated from Israel on account of settlement construction.

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J Street Rolls Out the Red Carpet for BDS

These posts, about J Street conference speakers who advocate anti-Israel boycotts and sanctions, are becoming an annual tradition. Last year the ostensibly pro-Israel group hosted BDS advocates from fringe left-wing Jewish groups, raising questions as to why J Street’s commitment to “expanding the debate” over Israel only seems to involve stretching the spectrum to include the anti-Israel side.

This year J Street is hosting the book launch of Peter Beinart who — will wonders never cease — just published an op-ed in the New York Times calling for a “Zionist BDS” campaign that would seek to economically suffocate all Israeli Jews who live beyond the 1948 armistice lines.

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These posts, about J Street conference speakers who advocate anti-Israel boycotts and sanctions, are becoming an annual tradition. Last year the ostensibly pro-Israel group hosted BDS advocates from fringe left-wing Jewish groups, raising questions as to why J Street’s commitment to “expanding the debate” over Israel only seems to involve stretching the spectrum to include the anti-Israel side.

This year J Street is hosting the book launch of Peter Beinart who — will wonders never cease — just published an op-ed in the New York Times calling for a “Zionist BDS” campaign that would seek to economically suffocate all Israeli Jews who live beyond the 1948 armistice lines.

(1) In practice — which is to say, outside of Beinart’s singular too-clever-by-half advocacy — there’s no such thing as a limited anti-Israel boycott. There isn’t this critical mass of Western activists waiting to learn from Peter Beinart which Israelis they’re supposed to like and who they need to ostracize, and takes either shallow narcissism or revelatory cocooning to believe otherwise. Meanwhile the Palestinians talk about Israeli chains that “spread like cancer,” a nice rhetorical reminder that boycott movements get their strength not just from revulsion but from the cheap superiority to be found in feeling revulsed. Israel doesn’t actually make all that much in the West Bank, and the typical attraction of BDS has far more to do with chasing the never-quite-adequate pleasure of hating those people — of indulging in an ugly sneer at the thought of rotting Israeli goods and suffering Israeli families — than with utilizing objective economic leverage.

That’s why calls for so-called “targeted” BDS routinely metastasize into calls for total boycotts of the Jewish State. In Britain efforts to label products from settlements spurred greater efforts for full boycotts. Partisans inclined to hate Israel hijack not just the campaigns but also even the physical forums where partial vs. full BDS gets debated. The consistency with which that dynamic has played out raises questions about whether limited BDS advocates are merely naive.

(2) BDS is such a vulgar advocacy that even Norman Finkelstein, who once made John Mearsheimer’s list of good Jews, can’t stomach it. He recently lashed out against the “cult” in general, and he was specifically bothered by the nudge-wink pretense that BDS advocates can somehow untangle their campaigns from wholesale calls to wipe out Israel:

Finkelstein got into trouble when he said that some people in BDS “don’t want Israel.” He lectured his BDS colleagues: “Stop trying to be so clever, because you’re only clever in your cult. The moment you step out, you have to deal with Israeli propaganda … They say, ‘No, they’re not really talking about rights; they’re talking about they want to destroy Israel.’ And in fact I think they’re right, I think that’s true.”

In fact, Finkelstein said, it is “not an accident, an unwitting omission, that BDS does not mention Israel”: They “know it will split the movement, because there’s a large segment—component—of the movement that wants to eliminate Israel.” You can see why anti-Israel people were offended to hear this from Finkelstein, of all people. Yet Finkelstein was not revealing some deep secret about the motives of those BDS-ers. Anyone who has listened to their leaders, read their papers, seen them at play, or checked out their circle of acquaintances, supporters, and collaborators can hardly be surprised.

It would be great if someone could push Beinart on Finkelstein’s points, especially on the issue of left-wing BDS disingenuousness. The odds of that particular conversation happening at the J Street conference are, for obvious reasons, not particularly great.

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Jews Divided on Iran? Not Really

Worry over the threat of an Iranian nuclear weapon is one issue that has long united the pro-Israel community. The strength of this consensus, which is shared by the majority of Americans, is such that the only real division is over whether it is advisable for Israel or the West to strike Iran relatively soon or to wait a while for crippling sanctions to force a diplomatic solution before force is used. Some on the left continue to weakly argue that Iran doesn’t want to build such a weapon or, alternatively, that a nuclear Iran can be contained. But President Obama’s recent speech to the AIPAC conference in which he reiterated his determination to stop Iran and disavowed a containment strategy, demonstrated that such voices are very much on the margins of public debate, let alone the Jewish community.

However that didn’t stop the New York Times from running an article today on the front page that claimed in the headline in the version published online on Sunday afternoon “Pro-Israel Groups Differ on Iran” (by Monday, the headline had been changed to read “Hawks Steer Debate on How to Take on Iran”). But those readers eager to discover which mainstream Jewish groups were taking a contrary position on Iran were disappointed. The only organizations that the Times could find to back up that headline were J Street and Tikkun. While the former claims to be “pro-Israel” even the latter’s adherents do not attempt to play that game. But however you wish to label them, the idea that disagreement from these two left-wing outliers constitutes any sort of a Jewish debate is comical. Perhaps only in the pages of the New York Times or that of Tikkun itself, could a situation where the opposition of groups as marginal as these be considered a serious news story.

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Worry over the threat of an Iranian nuclear weapon is one issue that has long united the pro-Israel community. The strength of this consensus, which is shared by the majority of Americans, is such that the only real division is over whether it is advisable for Israel or the West to strike Iran relatively soon or to wait a while for crippling sanctions to force a diplomatic solution before force is used. Some on the left continue to weakly argue that Iran doesn’t want to build such a weapon or, alternatively, that a nuclear Iran can be contained. But President Obama’s recent speech to the AIPAC conference in which he reiterated his determination to stop Iran and disavowed a containment strategy, demonstrated that such voices are very much on the margins of public debate, let alone the Jewish community.

However that didn’t stop the New York Times from running an article today on the front page that claimed in the headline in the version published online on Sunday afternoon “Pro-Israel Groups Differ on Iran” (by Monday, the headline had been changed to read “Hawks Steer Debate on How to Take on Iran”). But those readers eager to discover which mainstream Jewish groups were taking a contrary position on Iran were disappointed. The only organizations that the Times could find to back up that headline were J Street and Tikkun. While the former claims to be “pro-Israel” even the latter’s adherents do not attempt to play that game. But however you wish to label them, the idea that disagreement from these two left-wing outliers constitutes any sort of a Jewish debate is comical. Perhaps only in the pages of the New York Times or that of Tikkun itself, could a situation where the opposition of groups as marginal as these be considered a serious news story.

The article attempts to frame the debate as one between evangelical Christians and “neocons” on the right and the peace faction on the left represented by J Street and Tikkun. But there is, in fact, no great division on the issue. It is true that conservatives are deeply skeptical of President Obama’s promises on the issue and point out that his actions have never matched the fierce rhetoric on the subject that he has been spouting since even before he was elected president. But the argument about whether Obama has done much on the issue or if he will ultimately do anything at all is a very different question than the one posed by the Times.

As even the Times noted, the only opposition to tough sanctions that mandate an oil embargo on Iran came from the far left or the isolationist far right. But to represent the views put forward by Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul as having anything but a miniscule following in the country in general, let alone in the Jewish community is an astonishing distortion.

As for J Street, while it once hoped to replace AIPAC as the voice of American Jewry on Israel, that is an assertion that is not treated seriously anywhere but in the pages of the Times. J Street’s positions opposing Israeli measures of self-defense and refusal to join the consensus on Iran has prevented it from achieving the success it thought it would achieve. Congress pays little attention to its attempt to bite AIPAC’s ankles on the issues and even President Obama, whose cause it was set up to support against attacks from the left, has deserted it. Obama’s speech to AIPAC made it clear that, at least while he was running for re-election, he has ditched the group’s agenda of pressure on Israel for the sake of a dead-in-the-water peace process.

As for Tikkun, it is so far out of the mainstream that it makes J Street look moderate. Tikkun isn’t merely a supporter of Israel’s discredited Peace Now faction as is the case with J Street. It is a home for those on the far left who oppose the state’s existence altogether and back measures of economic warfare to bring it to its knees.

The Times article framed J Street and Tikkun as representing a sizable Jewish faction simply because the editorial slant of the piece demanded it. To claim they represent anything but the far left is absurd. Indeed, the piece’s conclusion contradicted both the lead and the headline when it noted:

The harder line that Mr. Obama articulated also happens to be good domestic politics, according to experts. The president’s statements, they said, calmed the jitters of some Jewish voters about his support for Israel and defused the effort of Republican presidential candidates to use Iran as a wedge issue against him.

That is true. While the left hopes to buttress what it believes is Obama’s true wish to stay out of a conflict on Iran, his tilt on the issue shows that he knows there are very few votes, Jewish or non-Jewish, to be won by sounding as soft on Iran as J Street and Tikkun would like. The only real Jewish debate on the issue is strictly in the imaginations of these extremists and their cheering section at the Times.

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J Street in Trouble for Smearing Israel

Last time Israel launched a defensive war in Gaza, J Street called for superpower intervention to restrain the IDF. The position put the ostensibly “pro-Israel” organization firmly on the other side of the Israeli government and three-fourths of the Israeli public, and at least in tension with the Palestinian Authority’s “it’s Hamas’s fault” position. But they’re still “pro-Israel” because their parents told them they could be anything they want when they grow up.

This time around, J Street partisans have settled on a less robust advocacy, mostly contenting themselves with catechisms about how “the majority of… Palestinians recognize that a two-state solution is the only means to achieve true peace and security.”

Still, two problems.

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Last time Israel launched a defensive war in Gaza, J Street called for superpower intervention to restrain the IDF. The position put the ostensibly “pro-Israel” organization firmly on the other side of the Israeli government and three-fourths of the Israeli public, and at least in tension with the Palestinian Authority’s “it’s Hamas’s fault” position. But they’re still “pro-Israel” because their parents told them they could be anything they want when they grow up.

This time around, J Street partisans have settled on a less robust advocacy, mostly contenting themselves with catechisms about how “the majority of… Palestinians recognize that a two-state solution is the only means to achieve true peace and security.”

Still, two problems.

First, multiple different polls with multiple different questions have confirmed that of course it’s not the case  the majority of Palestinians embrace a two-state solution. Wishing doesn’t make it so. Second, J Street tried to stack even their minimal advocacy with an outrageous lie about anti-Palestinian Israeli atrocities. Via blogger Challah Hu Akbar, who caught the smear almost immediately:

J Street has released a statement on the recent rocket attacks against Israel’s southern communities and the IDF response. In this statement, J Street says… “Israel Defense Forces… have killed over a dozen Palestinian civilians.” This is an utter lie. Prior to Sunday, Israel had successfully killed 16 terrorists, who were either active in the Popular Resistance Committees or Islamic Jihad, and no civilians. Unfortunately, two civilians were killed on Sunday.

Challah then went on to list each and every terrorist who had been killed, complete with pictures and links to most of their online martyr bios. Martyr bios. While genocidal Palestinian groups were glorifying their cretins’ battlefield demise, J Street was calling those terrorists civilians. Apparently, they’re so incompetent they can’t even toe the Palestinian line correctly.

In fairness, J Street later deleted their false smear. But that hasn’t stopped Israeli outlets from painstakingly cataloging how everyone except the organization seemed to know the dead terrorists were in fact dead terrorists (the notable exception being EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton, who also seemingly didn’t know). And it hasn’t stopped Israeli MK Otniel Schneller from blasting the group:

“At a time when a million Israeli citizens have been living in bomb shelters for four days and four nights, have not gone to school or work and anxiously await the next siren, the terrorists firing on them are getting encouragement and support, not just from Iran and Hezbollah, but also from the left-wing Jewish American organization J Street,” Schneller said in the Knesset plenum on Tuesday. “The anti-Israel and anti-ethical statement of J Street should serve as a warning for Israeli politicians and left-wing activists, including members of my party, against supporting and identifying with J Street, as they have done in the past,” he added.

Schneller, by the by, turns out to be a Kadima MK. The forecast for former PM Ehud Olmert’s keynote at J Street’s upcoming conference is getting awfully frosty.

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Why Has J Street Defended Media Matters?

Back when the “Israel-Firsters” controversy first started to get picked up by major newspapers, J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami spoke to the Washington Post and defended Media Matters and Think Progress staffers who used the dual-loyalty charge.

“If the charge is that you’re putting the interests of another country before the interests of the United States in the way you would advocate that, it’s a legitimate question,” he told the Post.

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Back when the “Israel-Firsters” controversy first started to get picked up by major newspapers, J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami spoke to the Washington Post and defended Media Matters and Think Progress staffers who used the dual-loyalty charge.

“If the charge is that you’re putting the interests of another country before the interests of the United States in the way you would advocate that, it’s a legitimate question,” he told the Post.

Ben Ami is obviously no stranger to controversy, and by now he’s probably used to catching flack from the Jewish community. But the public condemnation in this instance was so swift and forceful that Ben Ami felt the need to rush out a clearly-panicked apology and weak clarification of his comments just hours after the article was published.

“I agree that the use of the term ‘Israel Firster’ is a bad choice of words. The conspiracy theory that American Jews have dual loyalty is just that, a conspiracy theory and must be refuted in the strongest possible way,” conceded Ben Ami, before urging the American Jewish community to stop debating the subject and focus on other issues.

The whole quote-and-recantation dance wasn’t exactly a surprise, considering J Street’s unlucky history with public relations. But the comments Ben Ami made to the Post were so wildly tone-deaf, so offensive, so far-off from reality – and in an interview he had no real obligation to give – that it was hard to imagine why he would ever make them in the first place.

So why do it? The Daily Caller reports on a funding overlap between J Street and Media Matters that raises one intriguing idea:

A source told The DC that [liberal philanthropist Bill] Benter donated to Media Matters, at least in part, so the liberal organization could bring MJ Rosenberg on board as its foreign policy voice.

Rosenberg has become a lightning rod for questioning the loyalty of American supporters of Israel by calling them “Israel-Firsters,” and for taking other radical positions. Alan Dershowitz, the liberal Harvard Law School professor, has denounced him in a series of recent interviews and articles, saying that Rosenberg’s rhetoric and ideas are similar to what neo-Nazi and pro-Hezbollah websites offer.

Bill Benter is the wealthy horse-better who helped financially prop up J Street when it was first getting off the ground. He also reportedly solicited over $800,000 in J Street contributions through a mysterious Hong Kong frontwoman named Consolacion Esdicul.

J Street didn’t return a call for comment about its current association with Benter today. But if Benter did specifically fund MJ Rosenberg’s position at Media Matters, it raises questions about whether this connection had anything to do with Ben Ami inserting himself into the controversy and initially defending Rosenberg’s indefensible dual-loyalty smears. Of course, J Street is the only group that would have the answer to that, and until they respond to requests for comment, it’s impossible to know for sure.

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J Street Spin Can’t Obscure Obama’s Jewish Vote Troubles

The left-wing J Street lobby has failed to gain much traction on Capitol Hill in its four years of existence. So it was hardly surprising that it would attempt to gain some publicity on the eve of the annual conference of AIPAC, the organization it once hoped to supplant. The group released a memo by its pollster Jim Gerstein that, it claims, debunks the notion that President Obama is in any danger of losing his stranglehold on the Jewish vote this fall.

Gerstein’s numbers and analysis are, however, merely a rehashing of much of what we already knew about the Jewish vote. It also largely mischaracterizes the debate about the issue. No one is disputing that Obama or any Democrat with a pulse will get a majority of Jewish votes in 2012. But neither is there much doubt that there is much chance that he will not get the same 78 percent of Jewish support that he got in 2008. The question is, after three years of distancing himself from Israel and engaging in disputes with the Jewish state, how big will be the drop off this year? The jury is obviously still out on that, but Gerstein’s assumption that it will not be much seems unfounded. Equally unreliable, as well as telling, is his argument that few Jews vote on the basis of U.S. policy toward Israel. Given the all-out charm offensive that the Obama administration has been directing toward Jewish voters in the last few months — which will reach another crescendo today as President Obama addresses the AIPAC Conference — it would seem the White House has a different view of the question than its J Street idolaters.

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The left-wing J Street lobby has failed to gain much traction on Capitol Hill in its four years of existence. So it was hardly surprising that it would attempt to gain some publicity on the eve of the annual conference of AIPAC, the organization it once hoped to supplant. The group released a memo by its pollster Jim Gerstein that, it claims, debunks the notion that President Obama is in any danger of losing his stranglehold on the Jewish vote this fall.

Gerstein’s numbers and analysis are, however, merely a rehashing of much of what we already knew about the Jewish vote. It also largely mischaracterizes the debate about the issue. No one is disputing that Obama or any Democrat with a pulse will get a majority of Jewish votes in 2012. But neither is there much doubt that there is much chance that he will not get the same 78 percent of Jewish support that he got in 2008. The question is, after three years of distancing himself from Israel and engaging in disputes with the Jewish state, how big will be the drop off this year? The jury is obviously still out on that, but Gerstein’s assumption that it will not be much seems unfounded. Equally unreliable, as well as telling, is his argument that few Jews vote on the basis of U.S. policy toward Israel. Given the all-out charm offensive that the Obama administration has been directing toward Jewish voters in the last few months — which will reach another crescendo today as President Obama addresses the AIPAC Conference — it would seem the White House has a different view of the question than its J Street idolaters.

One of the main fallacies in Gerstein’s memo seems to be his assertion that the Republicans are unlikely to do better in 2012 with Jewish voters than they did in their 2010 midterm landslide. Gerstein rightly says that the Democrats held most of the Jewish vote in 2010 even as they were getting slaughtered nationally. But the 2010 ballot was largely a referendum on Obama’s domestic policies like ObamaCare that were far more popular among Jews than among the general population. The presidential vote this year will provide pro-Israel Jewish moderates and Democrats an opportunity to register their dismay at Obama’s attitude toward Israel prior to his re-election campaign. Though he attempts to ignore data that contradicts his predictions, such as the Pew Research Study that showed a dramatic decline in Jewish affiliation toward the Democrats in the last four years, the administration’s obvious concern about the Jewish vote this year belies Gerstein’s false optimism on this score.

Gerstein is right when he says that Democrats retain the almost blind loyalty of a majority of American Jews. As I write in my feature in the March issue of COMMENTARY, “Jews, Money and 2012,” there is virtually nothing Obama could do or say in the next eight months that would cause him to get less than 50-60 percent of the Jewish vote. But the difference between that base line and the 78 percent he got in 2008 is very much up for grabs. Though those numbers may not be enormous, contrary to Gerstein’s argument, they are enough to make a difference in a number of crucial states such as Florida and Pennsylvania.

President Obama’s fortunes are on the upswing due to slightly better economic numbers and the fallout from a bitter Republican primary battle. But it’s a long way to November, and the standoff with Iran and the president’s willingness to back up his talk on the nuclear question with action, will have a major impact on the Jewish vote this year. The potential for a significant drop off from Obama’s 78 percent — especially if the GOP nominates a candidate not identified with the Christian right — is something that more realistic Democratic sources than J Street and Gerstein are right to take very seriously.

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Media Matters’ Worst Nightmare?

If you’ve been keeping up with Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz, you know he’s recently been battering President Obama for his association with the anti-Israel group Media Matters. While Dershowitz is a Democrat who supported Obama in 2008, he’s demanded the president cut ties with the left-wing media watchdog group, whose writers have made anti-Semitic remarks.

Today, Dershowitz took it a step further, promising to turn the issue into an election matter during an interview with WABC’s Aaron Klein (via BuzzFeed):

Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz, a leading Democratic lawyer who takes a hawkish line on Israel, has declared a personal war on the liberal group Media Matters, which has branched out into sharp criticism of Israel.

“Not only will [the Media Matters controversy] be an election matter, I will personally make it an election matter,” Dershowitz, a professor at Harvard Law School, told WABC’s Aaron Klein today. …

“I don’t know whether President Obama has any idea that Media Matters has turned the corner against Israel in this way,” he said. “I can tell you this, he will know very shortly because I am beginning a serious campaign on this issue and I will not let it drop until and unless [writer and activist MJ] Rosenberg is fired from Media Matters, or Media Matters changes its policy or the White House disassociates itself from Media Matters.”

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If you’ve been keeping up with Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz, you know he’s recently been battering President Obama for his association with the anti-Israel group Media Matters. While Dershowitz is a Democrat who supported Obama in 2008, he’s demanded the president cut ties with the left-wing media watchdog group, whose writers have made anti-Semitic remarks.

Today, Dershowitz took it a step further, promising to turn the issue into an election matter during an interview with WABC’s Aaron Klein (via BuzzFeed):

Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz, a leading Democratic lawyer who takes a hawkish line on Israel, has declared a personal war on the liberal group Media Matters, which has branched out into sharp criticism of Israel.

“Not only will [the Media Matters controversy] be an election matter, I will personally make it an election matter,” Dershowitz, a professor at Harvard Law School, told WABC’s Aaron Klein today. …

“I don’t know whether President Obama has any idea that Media Matters has turned the corner against Israel in this way,” he said. “I can tell you this, he will know very shortly because I am beginning a serious campaign on this issue and I will not let it drop until and unless [writer and activist MJ] Rosenberg is fired from Media Matters, or Media Matters changes its policy or the White House disassociates itself from Media Matters.”

Dershowitz launched his campaign today with a column denouncing Media Matters’ use of the term “Israel Firster” in the New York Daily News. The law professor has successfully battled left-wing anti-Israel groups in the past, including J Street. Here’s what Dershowitz had to say about J Street during a debate with its president, Jeremy Ben-Ami, last year:

“The reason you have to attack me is very simple: I am J Street’s nightmare. Let me tell you why. Because I am a liberal Democratic Jew who strongly opposes the settlements, who strongly favors a two-state solution, who supports Obama, who supports Hillary Clinton, who supports Petraeus, but who does not support J Street. You have to create the illusion that everybody against J Street is a member of the right, and is part of the Sarah Palin-Rush Limbaugh group. And you can’t explain me.”

A vocal campaign against Media Matters, especially if it includes other prominent Democrats in the Jewish community, could cause major problems for Media Matters and increase pressure on Obama to distance himself from the group.

But it will also be a test of whether Democrats are willing to call out anti-Semitism and Israel-bashing within their own ranks. After former AIPAC spokesman Josh Block criticized Media Matters staffers for making anti-Semitic comments late last year, the Truman Institute cut its association with him, claiming Block was trying to shut down “honest debate.” Will Democratic Party institutions side with Dershowitz on this issue? Or will they continue to stay silent on the uncomfortable but very real Israel problem at Media Matters?

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J Street’s Ben-Ami: Dual-Loyalty is a “Legitimate Question”

This morning, the Washington Post’s Peter Wallsten followed up on never-ending controversy about the Center for American Progress’s anti-Israel bloggers, and what it means for the Obama administration’s close ties to the think tank. (Incidentally, I wrote about this topic yesterday for the New York Post as well.)

According to WaPo, the scandal has caused a lot of hand-wringing in the administration – the White House’s Jewish community liaison reportedly told the Wiesenthal Center’s Rabbi Abraham Cooper that the situation at CAP was “troubling,” adding “that is not this administration.”

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This morning, the Washington Post’s Peter Wallsten followed up on never-ending controversy about the Center for American Progress’s anti-Israel bloggers, and what it means for the Obama administration’s close ties to the think tank. (Incidentally, I wrote about this topic yesterday for the New York Post as well.)

According to WaPo, the scandal has caused a lot of hand-wringing in the administration – the White House’s Jewish community liaison reportedly told the Wiesenthal Center’s Rabbi Abraham Cooper that the situation at CAP was “troubling,” adding “that is not this administration.”

The article is worth reading in full, but this quote from J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami tucked all the way at the end of the piece was particularly interesting:

Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of J Street, a left-leaning voice on Israel issues, said he had no problem with “Israel-Firster.”

“If the charge is that you’re putting the interests of another country before the interests of the United States in the way you would advocate that, it’s a legitimate question,” Ben-Ami said.

Ben-Ami added that Jewish groups “should tread lightly” when they make accusations of anti-Semitism. “Because when they do need to use that word, people won’t take you seriously,” he said.

J Street has pretty much vanished from the scene during the past year, so it’s mystifying why Ben-Ami would want to reenter the picture with a quote like that. He must have realized the problem, because later today he walked it back on his website (or, rather, he acknowledged that the term “Israel-Firster” was offensive and immediately demanded everyone change the subject).

But Ben-Ami’s argument that accusations of anti-Semitism are being used too loosely is becoming standard fare on the left. Glenn Greenwald wrote something similar in his own piece on the CAP scandal today:

[S]mearing those with policy disagreements as anti-Semites has become a leading tactic in these precincts. And the prime purveyors are those who have anointed themselves as the guardians and arbiters of the term, and have thus done more to dilute and trivialize it than any actual anti-Semites could ever dream of achieving. It’s the classic Boy Who Cried Wolf syndrome: if you scream “anti-Semite” in order to prohibit perfectly valid ideas from being expressed, then nobody will listen or care when you scream it in order to highlight its genuine manifestations. …

So this smear campaign not only threatens to suppress legitimate debate about crucial policy matters in the U.S., but it also is aimed at the reputations and careers of numerous young liberal writers who have done absolutely nothing wrong.

If Greenwald doesn’t think any of the CAP or Media Matters comments were offensive, that’s fine. But calling criticism of the writing a “smear campaign” is simply inaccurate, since CAP officials and the writers themselves have already conceded some of the remarks crossed the line.

His claim that critics of CAP and Media Matters are looking to collect “scalps” or ruin reputations also strikes me as paranoid nonsense. The criticism over the past month hasn’t been focused on the writers themselves, but on the ideas CAP has started channeling into the mainstream.

These weren’t ideas CAP bloggers personally invented, or even necessarily realized the anti-Semitic connotations. But they’re concepts steeped in anti-Jewish tropes that have grown increasingly prevalent on the left in recent years. It would be wrong to let these ideas go unchallenged, simply because they’re being voiced by people who don’t necessarily have bad intentions.

When Zaid Jilani told me he didn’t realize the connotation behind his “Israel-Firster” comments, I believed him, and still do. I know and like some of the writers at CAP, and while I don’t agree with them on Israel, they’re not anti-Semites.

But I strongly disagree with Greenwald. Suggesting that American supporters of Israel are disloyal citizens is not a “perfectly valid idea.” Claiming that AIPAC is marching the U.S. into war with Iran on behalf of Israel is not a “perfectly valid idea.” And characterizing Israel as an apartheid state is not a “perfectly valid idea.” These notions are false and offensive, and saying so publicly doesn’t mean you’re “prohibiting” free discussion. People who honestly believe those conspiratorial ideas about the Israel lobby and dual-loyalty – who aren’t just repeating them without considering the meaning behind them – have plenty of extremist right-wing and left-wing outlets to push their message out. An influential Democratic think tank should not be one of them.

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Birthright Confusion Caps Off Worst Week Ever for J Street

If 2010 was a bad year for J Street, 2011 looks like it’s shaping up to be even worse. In the past week, the organization has been denounced by its most prominent supporter in Congress — Rep. Gary Ackerman — and by Israeli ambassador Michael Oren.

And now J Street is facing another problem. A few days ago, the group announced it would be sponsoring a Birthright trip to Israel and posted a sign-up page for the program on its website. But now Birthright is denying it was ever involved with the trip:

A Birthright official told Haaretz that about three months ago they were approached by “The Israel Experience,” one of the trip providers, with this idea, but said that they are not interested in trips dedicated to a specific political experience. “Since then we didn’t have any requests from them,” he said. “And then we saw to our astonishment the press release of J Street that they are “leading the trip” — there is no such thing in our practice. We had no direct contact with J Street, no formal request was submitted.”

However, J Street disputes Birthright’s account of the situation. According to Moriel Rothman, president of J Street’s student arm, which reportedly organized the trip, Birthright had initially approved the program.

“[W]e are deeply troubled by Birthright’s abrupt decision to cancel our trip,” said Rothman. “Revoking this previously-approved opportunity, planned in concert with accredited Birthright trip organizer Israel Experience, sends exactly the wrong message to our community and to our students. And it is a painful message to receive.”

A series of e-mails obtained by Haaretz appears to partially back up J Street’s version of the story. The correspondence reportedly shows that J Street had submitted a proposal to an accredited Birthright trip organizer, who responded that the draft was “perfect.” However, it’s unclear from the article whether the trip was ever officially approved:

The pro-Israel lobby submitted to Haaretz email correspondences between an official from The Israel Experience and a J Street Campus representative, which show that JStreet sent the draft regarding the announcement of the trip for approval – and they received it. The Israel Experience official defined the draft as “perfect.” So it seems that the miscommunication occurred somewhere between “Birthright” and one of the trip organizers.‬

So what happened? Was there a missed communication somewhere between the trip organizer and Birthright leadership? Or did Birthright initially approve the program and then back out under outside pressure? At this point, it isn’t clear, and multiple requests for comment from Birthright over the past few days have not been returned.

If 2010 was a bad year for J Street, 2011 looks like it’s shaping up to be even worse. In the past week, the organization has been denounced by its most prominent supporter in Congress — Rep. Gary Ackerman — and by Israeli ambassador Michael Oren.

And now J Street is facing another problem. A few days ago, the group announced it would be sponsoring a Birthright trip to Israel and posted a sign-up page for the program on its website. But now Birthright is denying it was ever involved with the trip:

A Birthright official told Haaretz that about three months ago they were approached by “The Israel Experience,” one of the trip providers, with this idea, but said that they are not interested in trips dedicated to a specific political experience. “Since then we didn’t have any requests from them,” he said. “And then we saw to our astonishment the press release of J Street that they are “leading the trip” — there is no such thing in our practice. We had no direct contact with J Street, no formal request was submitted.”

However, J Street disputes Birthright’s account of the situation. According to Moriel Rothman, president of J Street’s student arm, which reportedly organized the trip, Birthright had initially approved the program.

“[W]e are deeply troubled by Birthright’s abrupt decision to cancel our trip,” said Rothman. “Revoking this previously-approved opportunity, planned in concert with accredited Birthright trip organizer Israel Experience, sends exactly the wrong message to our community and to our students. And it is a painful message to receive.”

A series of e-mails obtained by Haaretz appears to partially back up J Street’s version of the story. The correspondence reportedly shows that J Street had submitted a proposal to an accredited Birthright trip organizer, who responded that the draft was “perfect.” However, it’s unclear from the article whether the trip was ever officially approved:

The pro-Israel lobby submitted to Haaretz email correspondences between an official from The Israel Experience and a J Street Campus representative, which show that JStreet sent the draft regarding the announcement of the trip for approval – and they received it. The Israel Experience official defined the draft as “perfect.” So it seems that the miscommunication occurred somewhere between “Birthright” and one of the trip organizers.‬

So what happened? Was there a missed communication somewhere between the trip organizer and Birthright leadership? Or did Birthright initially approve the program and then back out under outside pressure? At this point, it isn’t clear, and multiple requests for comment from Birthright over the past few days have not been returned.

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Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren Blasts J Street

It looks like the feud between Michael Oren and J Street has been re-opened after the Israeli ambassador to the U.S. took a shot at the organization during an interview with the Daily Caller. Oren seemed specifically annoyed over J Street’s e-mail-blast attack on Rep. Gary Ackerman last week:

“They claim they’re pro-Israel,” he said, providing a less than ringing endorsement of the George Soros-funded organization. “They are calling for Israel to be condemned in the Security Council for the settlements and they are condemning some of our best friends on the Hill. So they can call themselves what they like.”

The relationship between Oren and J Street has been rocky from the beginning. The ambassador turned down an invitation to speak at the group’s first conference in 2009, and he also referred to J Street’s views as dangerous to Israel’s security. But they appeared to mend relations last winter, based on a series of mutually fawning media interviews and private discussions. In February, Oren claimed that J Street had moved “much more into the mainstream” and said that “[t]he J Street controversy has come a long way toward resolving.” The ambassador even held a private meeting with J Street president Jeremy Ben-Ami in April.

But Oren’s statement to the Daily Caller is a sure sign that J Street is on the outs with the embassy again.

Probably sensing this, J Street took a desperate measure this afternoon. You know things have hit rock bottom if Ben-Ami starts apologizing:

Too often, we descend to the level of those with whom we disagree and our campaigns and actions become too personal.

This happened last week with Congressman Gary Ackerman, when we reacted sharply to statements regarding J Street to which we objected. We may disagree with him over policy matters at times — but he and we share important larger goals for the United States, Israel and the Jewish people. Our discussions with him and with all those with whom we may disagree at times should be conducted with respect.

So allow me to apologize for the tone of our email on Friday.

Oren began mending his relationship with J Street after the group appeared to be gaining influence with members of Congress and Obama administration officials. But in less than a year, J Street has lost any political clout it once had, and the embassy doesn’t have much of a reason to work with it anymore.

It looks like the feud between Michael Oren and J Street has been re-opened after the Israeli ambassador to the U.S. took a shot at the organization during an interview with the Daily Caller. Oren seemed specifically annoyed over J Street’s e-mail-blast attack on Rep. Gary Ackerman last week:

“They claim they’re pro-Israel,” he said, providing a less than ringing endorsement of the George Soros-funded organization. “They are calling for Israel to be condemned in the Security Council for the settlements and they are condemning some of our best friends on the Hill. So they can call themselves what they like.”

The relationship between Oren and J Street has been rocky from the beginning. The ambassador turned down an invitation to speak at the group’s first conference in 2009, and he also referred to J Street’s views as dangerous to Israel’s security. But they appeared to mend relations last winter, based on a series of mutually fawning media interviews and private discussions. In February, Oren claimed that J Street had moved “much more into the mainstream” and said that “[t]he J Street controversy has come a long way toward resolving.” The ambassador even held a private meeting with J Street president Jeremy Ben-Ami in April.

But Oren’s statement to the Daily Caller is a sure sign that J Street is on the outs with the embassy again.

Probably sensing this, J Street took a desperate measure this afternoon. You know things have hit rock bottom if Ben-Ami starts apologizing:

Too often, we descend to the level of those with whom we disagree and our campaigns and actions become too personal.

This happened last week with Congressman Gary Ackerman, when we reacted sharply to statements regarding J Street to which we objected. We may disagree with him over policy matters at times — but he and we share important larger goals for the United States, Israel and the Jewish people. Our discussions with him and with all those with whom we may disagree at times should be conducted with respect.

So allow me to apologize for the tone of our email on Friday.

Oren began mending his relationship with J Street after the group appeared to be gaining influence with members of Congress and Obama administration officials. But in less than a year, J Street has lost any political clout it once had, and the embassy doesn’t have much of a reason to work with it anymore.

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The Definition of ‘Anti-Israel’

Last week, Steve Clemons organized a contingent of foreign-policy officials and commentators to send a letter to President Obama urging the U.S. to support the anti-settlement resolution at the UN.

It included many prominent critics of the Israel — Peter Beinart, Chas Freeman, and Andrew Sullivan, to name just a few.

Based on their well-documented eagerness to condemn Israel whenever possible, the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin referred to the group as “Israel-bashers” – prompting an angry response from Clemons and setting off a debate about the meaning of “pro-Israel,” according to Ben Smith:

The group J Street has been waging, and mostly losing, a political fight with more hawkish allies of Israel over the meaning of the term “pro-Israel,” and today another Washington skirmish erupts on the topic. …

There are two fights underway at the moment: One is defining the politically acceptable space in Washington for debating Israel policy; the other is the push by Bill Kristol and his allies to identify support for Israel explicitly with the Republican Party. That latter effort, ironically, has some of the same goals of the former, which would like to see the Democratic Party soften its hard line.

I wholeheartedly disagree with Smith’s assessment. I highly doubt that any Israel supporters on the right want to turn support for Israel into a partisan issue, especially since pro-Israel views are widespread throughout both political parties. As we saw from the midterm elections, it’s politically suicidal for candidates to take anti-Israel stances — regardless of party affiliation — because those are positions that most of the public disagree with.

As for Clemons’s protestations at being called anti-Israel, I have several comments.

Being critical of settlement construction is not an inherently anti-Israel position. But the tone of the argument and the way it’s framed and presented is a good indicator of whether someone is a friend or foe of the Jewish state.

Calling on Israel to halt settlement construction within the framework of peace negotiations — like in a statement from the Quartet — is one thing. Overturning years of precedent by joining together with enemies of Israel, as they grandstand and demonize the Jewish state in an international public forum, is appalling and would be a disgraceful way to treat any ally. Read More

Last week, Steve Clemons organized a contingent of foreign-policy officials and commentators to send a letter to President Obama urging the U.S. to support the anti-settlement resolution at the UN.

It included many prominent critics of the Israel — Peter Beinart, Chas Freeman, and Andrew Sullivan, to name just a few.

Based on their well-documented eagerness to condemn Israel whenever possible, the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin referred to the group as “Israel-bashers” – prompting an angry response from Clemons and setting off a debate about the meaning of “pro-Israel,” according to Ben Smith:

The group J Street has been waging, and mostly losing, a political fight with more hawkish allies of Israel over the meaning of the term “pro-Israel,” and today another Washington skirmish erupts on the topic. …

There are two fights underway at the moment: One is defining the politically acceptable space in Washington for debating Israel policy; the other is the push by Bill Kristol and his allies to identify support for Israel explicitly with the Republican Party. That latter effort, ironically, has some of the same goals of the former, which would like to see the Democratic Party soften its hard line.

I wholeheartedly disagree with Smith’s assessment. I highly doubt that any Israel supporters on the right want to turn support for Israel into a partisan issue, especially since pro-Israel views are widespread throughout both political parties. As we saw from the midterm elections, it’s politically suicidal for candidates to take anti-Israel stances — regardless of party affiliation — because those are positions that most of the public disagree with.

As for Clemons’s protestations at being called anti-Israel, I have several comments.

Being critical of settlement construction is not an inherently anti-Israel position. But the tone of the argument and the way it’s framed and presented is a good indicator of whether someone is a friend or foe of the Jewish state.

Calling on Israel to halt settlement construction within the framework of peace negotiations — like in a statement from the Quartet — is one thing. Overturning years of precedent by joining together with enemies of Israel, as they grandstand and demonize the Jewish state in an international public forum, is appalling and would be a disgraceful way to treat any ally.

That’s the entire point of the resolution before the Security Council. It’s meant to single out and scapegoat Israel for the delays in the peace process. In reality, there are many obstructions to the negotiations — the biggest ones coming from the Palestinian side — and neither Clemons’s letter nor the Security Council resolution mentions any of them.

What else can that be called except bias?

If Clemons seriously wants to see the end of settlement-building, I can’t imagine a worse way to go about it than by supporting a UN resolution. Historically, more progress has been made on curbing settlement construction when the U.S. has lobbied Israel privately (e.g., the secret agreements under Sharon and Bush). And I fail to see how humiliating one of our closest and most loyal allies in front of the world will help bring about further progress on peace negotiations.

The UN resolution demonizes Israel, unfairly scapegoats Israel and undermines peace negotiations. If that’s not anti-Israel, then what is?

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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.

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.

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Israel’s Critics Cry About Being Repressed … from Their Usual Soapbox at the New York Times

That the New York Times’s Roger Cohen has a problem with Israel is not exactly a secret. As far as he is concerned, the country’s democratically elected government and the people who elected it don’t measure up to his moral standards. Moreover, he and those who share his views, like writer Peter Beinart, think that any Jewish or non-Jewish friends of Israel who prefer to focus their efforts on continuing to defend Israel against an Arab/Muslim siege and anti-Zionist campaigners who seek to isolate it rather than spend their time flaying it for perceived sins are also not living up to the standards they are setting for them.

Today Cohen weighs in again to tell the sad tale of a liberal American who went to Israel to work for left-wing causes there and claims to have gotten into a scuffle with right-wingers after a demonstration in Tel Aviv during which he and his friends waved signs that said “Zionists Are Not Settlers.” Politics in Israel can be a bit rougher than what we’re used to here in America, but there’s no excuse for violence. It would have been far better for his antagonists to merely point out that Zionists have always been “settlers,” since there would be no state of Israel had not some Jews had the chutzpah to jump-start the rebirth of Jewish life in the Jewish homeland by planting roots in places where Arabs didn’t want them to be. Like, for example, the metropolis of Tel Aviv, where the demonstration took place, which a century ago was nothing but a small annoying Jewish settlement on the outskirts of Arab Jaffa.

But Cohen isn’t content to merely blackguard Israelis or their supporters. In order to put forward his argument in a way in which those who agree with him can be portrayed as victims rather than judgmental critics who don’t understand Israel’s dilemma, he has to claim that their views are being suppressed. Thus, it isn’t enough for him to promote the views of the left-wing lobby J Street or to echo the arguments of Beinart about Israel’s moral failures; he must also claim that the “debate remains stifled.” Read More

That the New York Times’s Roger Cohen has a problem with Israel is not exactly a secret. As far as he is concerned, the country’s democratically elected government and the people who elected it don’t measure up to his moral standards. Moreover, he and those who share his views, like writer Peter Beinart, think that any Jewish or non-Jewish friends of Israel who prefer to focus their efforts on continuing to defend Israel against an Arab/Muslim siege and anti-Zionist campaigners who seek to isolate it rather than spend their time flaying it for perceived sins are also not living up to the standards they are setting for them.

Today Cohen weighs in again to tell the sad tale of a liberal American who went to Israel to work for left-wing causes there and claims to have gotten into a scuffle with right-wingers after a demonstration in Tel Aviv during which he and his friends waved signs that said “Zionists Are Not Settlers.” Politics in Israel can be a bit rougher than what we’re used to here in America, but there’s no excuse for violence. It would have been far better for his antagonists to merely point out that Zionists have always been “settlers,” since there would be no state of Israel had not some Jews had the chutzpah to jump-start the rebirth of Jewish life in the Jewish homeland by planting roots in places where Arabs didn’t want them to be. Like, for example, the metropolis of Tel Aviv, where the demonstration took place, which a century ago was nothing but a small annoying Jewish settlement on the outskirts of Arab Jaffa.

But Cohen isn’t content to merely blackguard Israelis or their supporters. In order to put forward his argument in a way in which those who agree with him can be portrayed as victims rather than judgmental critics who don’t understand Israel’s dilemma, he has to claim that their views are being suppressed. Thus, it isn’t enough for him to promote the views of the left-wing lobby J Street or to echo the arguments of Beinart about Israel’s moral failures; he must also claim that the “debate remains stifled.”

What is his proof? Because left-wingers who tried to disrupt a speech being given by Israel’s prime minster were “dragged out” of the auditorium where Netanyahu was trying to speak in New Orleans. Never mind that if someone tried to do that to President Obama, he’d be arrested. What else? Because one synagogue in Massachusetts decided not to host a J Street leader. Shocking. Want more? Cohen claims that AIPAC, a vast group with across-the-board support from American Jews, won’t debate J Street, a small group largely funded by financier George Soros (though the group spent years inexplicably lying about Soros’s role in propping up this Potemkin organization) that is dedicated to supporting American pressure on Israel. Even worse, the young Jew whose story Cohen tells is getting some negative feedback from friends about his J Street activities. Isn’t that awful?

The truth is, despite promoting itself as the liberal alternative to AIPAC, a stance that ought to make it popular due to the fact that most Jews are liberals, J Street has little grassroots Jewish support. That’s because it has systematically taken stands on Israel’s right to self-defense and the nuclear threat from Iran that strike most Jews as being outside the pro-Israel consensus. But far from being silenced, J Street is the darling of a mainstream media that has consistently promoted it, especially in places where Israel’s supporters have trouble making their voices heard. Like the opinion pages of the New York Times.

But Cohen did get one thing right. He notes in passing that the administration’s latest attempt to pressure Israel failed because “President Barack Obama had virtually no domestic constituency” for his policy. This is absolutely true. The vast majority of Americans, both Jewish and non-Jewish, support the Jewish state and oppose twisting its arm in this manner. That they hold to this belief despite the constant drumbeat of attacks on Israel, such as those by Cohen, his Times colleague Nicholas Kristof, and Peter Beinart, speaks volumes about how marginal J Street still is.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Hooray for Newton, Massachusetts!: “Temple Beth Avodah, a Reform Jewish synagogue in Newton, has abruptly canceled an event with the president of J Street, a lobbying group that supports liberal positions on Israel, because of vociferous objections from some members of the congregation about J Street’s politics.” Bravo — why should Jews, even liberal ones, keep up the facade that the Soros-funded group is a legitimate, pro-Israel organization.

Three cheers for hope and change: “The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi of California, was re-elected on Wednesday to lead the Democrats in the next Congress, despite her party’s loss of more than 60 seats and its majority control of the House in the midterm elections. Officials said that Ms. Pelosi defeated Representative Heath Shuler of North Carolina in an internal party vote, 150 to 43.” We now know that there are 43 Dems who have sense enough to perhaps join their Republican colleagues on key votes.

Bingo! “The whole TSA procedure is hugely frustrating to travelers because not only is it needlessly invasive, but it is also a complete waste of time. Other countries facing similar threats respond in much less irritating and much more intelligent and effective ways. Israel, for example, does not do body scans and invasive pat-downs. If the Republicans want to cut government spending, a good place to start would be to abolish TSA. I say this as a very frequent traveler who regularly flies 150,000 miles per year.”

Wow-wee. Look what $1.5B in aid and Muslim Outreach got us: “Financial ties between Egypt and Iran have recently improved as a result of the Misr Iran Development Bank (MIDB), jointly owned by the two countries, according to a report by the Atlantic Monthly on Monday. According to the report, the MIDB, founded in 1975, has become a potential route for Teheran to bypass imposed economic sanctions with Egypt. The bank serves as evidence of the complex challenge faced by the US in enforcing international sanctions against Iran.”

Bravo, Just Journalism, for documenting 10 years of the London Review of Books‘s noxious anti-Israel screeds. “The LRB consistently portrayed Israel as a bloodthirsty and genocidal regime out of all proportion to reality, while sympathetic portraits abounded of groups designated as terrorist organisations by the British government such as Hamas and Hezbollah. While the Palestinian narrative was fully represented, Israel’s narrative on its legitimate security concerns, Arab rejectionism and terrorism was near absent.” Do you think they could do the New York Review of Books next?

Kudos to Lela Gilbert, who highlights this: “Recent terrorist attacks against Christians in Iraq have spotlighted their desperate circumstances in the Middle East, characterized by threats of terror and bloodshed, and culminating in a silent exodus from their ancient homelands—an exodus that mirrors that of the Jews half a century before. Murders, rapes, beatings, extortions, the burning and desecration of houses of worship and mob violence are abuses are all too familiar to surviving Jews who remember their own perilous journeys.” Where’s our Islam-Explainer-in-Chief, and why doesn’t he ever talk about this topic?

Way to go! First an earmark ban and now this: “House Republicans announced Wednesday they plan to force a floor vote on defunding NPR in response to the firing of analyst Juan Williams last month. House GOP Whip Eric Cantor (Va.) and Rep. Doug Lamborn (Colo.) said that cutting funds to the publicly subsidized news organization was the winner of the conference’s weekly ‘YouCut’ contest, in which the public votes online on spending items they want eliminated.”

Whew. No candidates like Mary Robinson for the Medal of Freedom this year. But Stan “the Man” Musial, Yo-Yo Ma, and Angela Merkel will get their awards. Also Bush 41. Bush 43 will have to wait to get his — maybe in Marco Rubio’s first term. (Yeah, yeah — Maya Angelou is an awful poet, but harmless enough.)

Better late than never. A gathering of 100 CEOs delivered the administration some long overdue pushback: “The CEOs, in a vote, said the government’s top priority should be to foster global trade and create a more business-friendly environment. But CEOs also said uncertainty about government policy on taxes and regulation remained a barrier to unlocking $2 trillion in capital sitting in the treasuries of U.S. non-financial businesses.”

Hooray for Newton, Massachusetts!: “Temple Beth Avodah, a Reform Jewish synagogue in Newton, has abruptly canceled an event with the president of J Street, a lobbying group that supports liberal positions on Israel, because of vociferous objections from some members of the congregation about J Street’s politics.” Bravo — why should Jews, even liberal ones, keep up the facade that the Soros-funded group is a legitimate, pro-Israel organization.

Three cheers for hope and change: “The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi of California, was re-elected on Wednesday to lead the Democrats in the next Congress, despite her party’s loss of more than 60 seats and its majority control of the House in the midterm elections. Officials said that Ms. Pelosi defeated Representative Heath Shuler of North Carolina in an internal party vote, 150 to 43.” We now know that there are 43 Dems who have sense enough to perhaps join their Republican colleagues on key votes.

Bingo! “The whole TSA procedure is hugely frustrating to travelers because not only is it needlessly invasive, but it is also a complete waste of time. Other countries facing similar threats respond in much less irritating and much more intelligent and effective ways. Israel, for example, does not do body scans and invasive pat-downs. If the Republicans want to cut government spending, a good place to start would be to abolish TSA. I say this as a very frequent traveler who regularly flies 150,000 miles per year.”

Wow-wee. Look what $1.5B in aid and Muslim Outreach got us: “Financial ties between Egypt and Iran have recently improved as a result of the Misr Iran Development Bank (MIDB), jointly owned by the two countries, according to a report by the Atlantic Monthly on Monday. According to the report, the MIDB, founded in 1975, has become a potential route for Teheran to bypass imposed economic sanctions with Egypt. The bank serves as evidence of the complex challenge faced by the US in enforcing international sanctions against Iran.”

Bravo, Just Journalism, for documenting 10 years of the London Review of Books‘s noxious anti-Israel screeds. “The LRB consistently portrayed Israel as a bloodthirsty and genocidal regime out of all proportion to reality, while sympathetic portraits abounded of groups designated as terrorist organisations by the British government such as Hamas and Hezbollah. While the Palestinian narrative was fully represented, Israel’s narrative on its legitimate security concerns, Arab rejectionism and terrorism was near absent.” Do you think they could do the New York Review of Books next?

Kudos to Lela Gilbert, who highlights this: “Recent terrorist attacks against Christians in Iraq have spotlighted their desperate circumstances in the Middle East, characterized by threats of terror and bloodshed, and culminating in a silent exodus from their ancient homelands—an exodus that mirrors that of the Jews half a century before. Murders, rapes, beatings, extortions, the burning and desecration of houses of worship and mob violence are abuses are all too familiar to surviving Jews who remember their own perilous journeys.” Where’s our Islam-Explainer-in-Chief, and why doesn’t he ever talk about this topic?

Way to go! First an earmark ban and now this: “House Republicans announced Wednesday they plan to force a floor vote on defunding NPR in response to the firing of analyst Juan Williams last month. House GOP Whip Eric Cantor (Va.) and Rep. Doug Lamborn (Colo.) said that cutting funds to the publicly subsidized news organization was the winner of the conference’s weekly ‘YouCut’ contest, in which the public votes online on spending items they want eliminated.”

Whew. No candidates like Mary Robinson for the Medal of Freedom this year. But Stan “the Man” Musial, Yo-Yo Ma, and Angela Merkel will get their awards. Also Bush 41. Bush 43 will have to wait to get his — maybe in Marco Rubio’s first term. (Yeah, yeah — Maya Angelou is an awful poet, but harmless enough.)

Better late than never. A gathering of 100 CEOs delivered the administration some long overdue pushback: “The CEOs, in a vote, said the government’s top priority should be to foster global trade and create a more business-friendly environment. But CEOs also said uncertainty about government policy on taxes and regulation remained a barrier to unlocking $2 trillion in capital sitting in the treasuries of U.S. non-financial businesses.”

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WEB EXCLUSIVE: Soros Is No Good Guy, but Beck’s Holocaust Remarks Are Dead Wrong

There has been a lot of criticism of George Soros on COMMENTARY’s blog. The financier has bankrolled a great many left-wing groups and candidates. He wrongly views the United States, his adopted country, as “the main obstacle to a stable and just world order.” His ambivalence toward the state of Israel is also well-known. Indeed, despite the fact that he is well-known for his philanthropy, the only Jewish cause this Hungarian-born Jew is associated with is J Street, the left-wing lobbying group that seeks to build support for crippling American pressure on Israel. Throw in a career filled with tawdry episodes of currency manipulation and insider trading, and it isn’t a pretty picture.

But even George Soros does not deserve some of the opprobrium heaped upon him by Glenn Beck this week. Beck has devoted much of his TV and radio programs in the past few days to detailing Soros’s sins. But instead of sticking to the issues and rightly flaying him for the stands he has taken and the bad causes he supports, Beck painted him as a teenage Nazi collaborator on his Nov. 10 show.

Read the rest of this Web exclusive here.

There has been a lot of criticism of George Soros on COMMENTARY’s blog. The financier has bankrolled a great many left-wing groups and candidates. He wrongly views the United States, his adopted country, as “the main obstacle to a stable and just world order.” His ambivalence toward the state of Israel is also well-known. Indeed, despite the fact that he is well-known for his philanthropy, the only Jewish cause this Hungarian-born Jew is associated with is J Street, the left-wing lobbying group that seeks to build support for crippling American pressure on Israel. Throw in a career filled with tawdry episodes of currency manipulation and insider trading, and it isn’t a pretty picture.

But even George Soros does not deserve some of the opprobrium heaped upon him by Glenn Beck this week. Beck has devoted much of his TV and radio programs in the past few days to detailing Soros’s sins. But instead of sticking to the issues and rightly flaying him for the stands he has taken and the bad causes he supports, Beck painted him as a teenage Nazi collaborator on his Nov. 10 show.

Read the rest of this Web exclusive here.

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