New pro-Is­rael lobby takes on pow­er­ful AIPAC

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY AMANDA CAR­PEN­TER

An up­start group try­ing to dis­place the pow­er­ful Amer­i­can Is­rael lobby has at­tracted Pres­i­dent Obama’s na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser to its first big meet­ing this week, but the event is also be­ing shunned by Is­rael’s U.S. am­bas­sador and sev­eral mem­bers of Congress be­cause of its views and ties to con­tro­ver­sial fig­ures.

J Street was formed a year and a half ago as a more lib­eral al­ter­na­tive to the na­tion’s main pro-Is­rael lob­by­ing or­ga­ni­za­tion, the Amer­i­can Is­rael Pub­lic Af­fairs Com­mit­tee, bet­ter known as AIPAC. J Street’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor has said that he wants his group to be the “block­ing back” for Mr. Obama’s ef­forts to bring peace to the Mid­dle East.

But by tak­ing on the long-es­tab­lished AIPAC and the hawk­ish Is­raeli gov­ern­ment, and by em­brac­ing in­di­vid­u­als who have ex­pressed hos­til­ity to Is­rael, J Street also has alien­ated some vet­eran Is­rael sup­port­ers in Wash­ing­ton. For ex­am­ple, one of next week’s speak­ers is a Mus­lim ac­tivist who has said that Is­rael should be con­sid­ered a sus­pect in the Sept. 11, 2001, ter­ror­ist at­tacks.

Twelve mem­bers of Congress who were ini­tially listed on the con­fer­ence’s host com­mit­tee of more than 160, in­clud­ing both se­na­tors from New York, have with­drawn their names.

Sen. John Kerry, Mas­sachusetts Demo­crat and chair­man of the Se­nate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee, said Oct. 20 that he would not be able to make a sched­uled Oct. 27 speak­ing slot be­cause of a con­flict, though his staff and J Street said they were hop­ing to resched­ule his ap­pear­ance at some other time dur­ing this week’s three-day con­fer­ence.

Rep. Howard Coble, a North Carolina Repub­li­can who re­moved his name from the host com­mit­tee, said he was con­fused about the group’s po­si­tions, al­though he elab­o­rated that he did not feel mis­led.

“I have a con­sis­tently fa­vor­able pro-Is­rael vot­ing record and if some­one touts them­selves as pro-Is­rael, I am very likely to join forces with them and that was my think­ing with this group,” he said. “Then I hear from my rabbi back home and oth­ers, and they as­sure me that this group is by no means on the same page with the main­stream Jewish com­mu­nity back in my district. And I didn’t feel comfortable lend­ing my name to that out­fit.”

But Rep. Jan Schakowsky, Illi­nois Demo­crat, said that J Street is a bona fide pro-Is­rael or­ga­ni­za­tion.

“I am pro-Is­rael and I was in­vited to par­tic­i­pate there and I feel I share the goals of this or­ga­ni­za­tion, which is a safe and se­cure Is­rael in peace with Pales­tinian neigh­bors in a twostate so­lu­tion,” she said, be­fore say­ing sup­port­ers of the Jewish state should wel­come pro-Is­rael groups of all kinds.

“I feel like this has been posed as ei­ther or by some, you are with AIPAC or J-Street. I work closely with both or­ga­ni­za­tions and all pro-Is­rael or­ga­ni­za­tions,” she said.

Hadar Susskind, J Street di- rec­tor of pol­icy and strat­egy, down­played the changes in the host com­mit­tee and said con­fer­ence sched­ules fre­quently get al­tered.

“As hap­pens in putting to­gether events like this, the list of hosts changed con­stantly over sev­eral months. Names were added and deleted, and de­ci­sions on par­tic­i­pa­tion changed reg­u­larly,” he said. “We made ev­ery ef­fort to en­sure the ac­cu­racy of the list, apol­o­gize for any mis­takes and will cer­tainly ad­just the list in the days ahead to re­flect both those who wish to add their name and those who wish to re­move it.”

One key dif­fer­ence be­tween J Street and AIPAC is that the lat­ter cal­i­brates its pub­lic po­si­tions to re­flect the cur­rent gov- ern­ment in Is­rael, but J Street is lib­eral-lean­ing and has been crit­i­cal of the cen­ter-right gov­ern­ing coali­tion of Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu.

The Is­raeli Em­bassy said in a state­ment about Am­bas­sador Michael Oren’s in­vi­ta­tion to ad­dress J Street’s meet­ing this week that it would send an ob­ser ver and “will fol­low [J Street’s] pro­ceed­ings with in­ter­est.”

“In re­sponse to the ques­tion about J Street’s in­vi­ta­tion to par­tic­i­pate in its con­fer­ence, the Em­bassy of Is­rael has been pri­vately com­mu­ni­cat­ing its con­cerns over cer­tain poli­cies of the or­ga­ni­za­tion that may im­pair the in­ter­ests of Is­rael,” the em­bassy said.

Those con­cerns range from J Street’s po­si­tion that the U.S. should not im­pose new sanc­tions on Iran to the group’s tepid crit­i­cism of a U.N. re­port that con­cluded that Is­rael de­lib­er­ately tar­geted civil­ians in the Gaza war.

De­spite oth­ers’ dis­tanc­ing them­selves from J Street, the White House will be send­ing re­tired Gen. James L. Jones, the na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser, to ad­dress the J Street con­fer­ence.

“The White House al­ways wel­comes the op­por­tu­nity to dis­cuss the pres­i­dent’s views and en­gage in a di­a­logue with in­ter­ested par­ties,” White House spokesman Thomas Vi­etor said.

An­other se­nior White House of­fi­cial told The Wash­ing­ton Times on the con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause of the sen­si­tiv­ity of the sit­u­a­tion that Mr. Jones’ de­ci­sion to speak to J Street was part of a broad out­reach ef­fort to U.S. Arab and Jewish groups.

On Oct. 19, Mr. Jones spoke to AIPAC’s board of direc­tors and two weeks ago he ad­dressed the Amer­i­can Task Force on Pales­tine. Mr. Jones will also speak to the Arab Amer­i­can In­sti­tute’s con­fer­ence later this month.

J Street’s crit­ics say the group tol­er­ates those who would make Is­rael a pariah.

Ear­lier this year, it sup­ported a Wash­ing­ton Jewish the­ater com­pany’s de­ci­sion to show Caryl Churchill’s “Seven Jewish Chil­dren,” a play that de­picts in its fi­nal scene a mono­logue of a par­ent ex­plain­ing that Jews must ra­tio­nal­ize the killings of Pales­tinian chil­dren in Gaza.

On Oct. 19, J Street’s or­ga­niz­ers can­celed a panel at the con­fer­ence af­ter some blog­gers posted a video on the In­ter­net of one of its poets, Josh Healey, recit­ing a poem in which Jews were com­pared to Nazis writ­ing “num­bers on the wrists of ba­bies born in the ghetto called Gaza.”

One speaker still on the list is Salam al-Maray­ati, founder of the Mus­lim Pub­lic Af­fairs Coun­cil.

Among other things, Mr. alMaray­ati said dur­ing a ra­dio in­ter­view on Sept. 11, 2001, af­ter the ter­ror­ists had struck U.S. soil, that Is­rael should be con­sid­ered a sus­pect.

“If we’re go­ing to look at sus­pects, we should look to the groups that ben­e­fit the most from th­ese kinds of in­ci­dents, and I think we should put the state of Is­rael on the sus­pect list,” he said. He has since said he re­gret­ted that state­ment.

Eli Lake con­trib­uted to this re­port.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser James L. Jones is sched­uled to ad­dress the J Street con­fer­ence this week in Wash­ing­ton as part of an out­reach ef­for t to U.S. Arab and Jewish groups.

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