Yasser Arafat sought peace with Israel, Jeremiah was a bullfrog, the Brooklyn Bridge is for sale, Brutus was an honorable man, and J Streetis a “pro-Israel” organization. Not.
As a long-time student of American politics and the U.S.-Israel relationship, I am fascinated by the “J Street” phenomenon and grateful for the Jerusalem Post’s recent exposé “Muslims, Arabs among J Street donors “ by Hilary Leila Krieger.
The Post’s revelation raises additional questions about the group: How can J Streetcall itself “pro-Israel” while advocating positions that are at odds with the traditional “pro-Israel” agenda? Who stands behind the organization? Who makes policy and decisions? Why hasn’t the organization drawn the attention of investigative reporters, or is the press reluctant to challenge an organization that has emerged as Obama’s “toy Jews?” How did an upstart organization get an invitation to a White House meeting with the President just one year after its founding?
Research leads to serious questions about the true mission and direction of the lobby.
As the Post story made clear, one aspect of the lobby’s fundraising is open to public scrutiny: the U.S. Federal Election Commission’s list of the J Street Political Action Committee donors. It appears that the majority of J Street PAC’s contributors are liberal American Jews, but, according to the Internet-accessible FEC lists and the Post story, the PAC donors also include the Saudi Embassy’s lawyer, Arab American leaders, several employees of Islamic Centers around the U.S., board members of the de facto Iranian lobby in the U.S., Arabist American foreign service officers, a board member of the anti-Israel and discredited Human Rights Watch, and many other individuals known for their anti-Israel opinions and activities. Among the organization’s advisory council are former U.S.diplomats and public officials who later became foreign agents in the pay of the Saudis, Egyptians and Tunisians.
There are many cases of such subterfuge, and here are but a few:
- J Street lists on its FEC forms a contributor, Zahi Khouri of OrlandoFl orida (pictured). The Jerusalem Post’s exposé revealed that he is a very prominent Palestinian entrepreneur and investor in Palestinian companies and funds. But the obfuscation gets worse. The J Street contribution forms filed with the FEC actually list Khouri’s occupation as “not employed.” Khouri’s supposed unemployment hasn’t hindered him from excoriating Israel in Op-Ed columns in U.S. newspapers.
- Mary El-Khatib is listed as a “teacher” in the J Street PAC’s list of contributors. That doesn’t reveal that she also writes for the virulently anti-Israel Muslim Link and that she was also a founder of an Islamic school in Virginia where she teaches and involves her students in “civic activities” such as saving Palestinian schools from Israeli “demolition.”
- J Street’s director recently complained that critics of his PAC went looking for Arab surnames, but that’s not the case with PAC contributor James Vitarello. While Vitarello is listed by J Street PAC as a “housing specialist,” he is not identified as the national co-chairman of Middle East Network of United Methodists. He is highly critical of Israel and the author of a published ditty, “Palestine fought the battle of Gaza, Gaza, Gaza. Palestine fought the battle of Gaza. And the walls came tumbling down. Israel caged them in with impunity, Cut off gas and water, electricity, All with U.S. complicity, So the walls came tumbling down.”
J Street’s director must take the Post’s readers for fools when he claims “I think it is a terrific thing for Israelfor us to be able to expand the tent of people who are willing to be considered pro-Israel.”
J Street proclaims on its Web site that (out of $850,000 raised) it contributed $575,000 to candidates in the latest election cycle, “more than any other pro-Israel PAC in the country!” Do these well-known detractors of Israel in J Street’s PAC know they are giving to an organization that advertises itself as “pro-Israel?” Or do the Arab-American and pro-Iranian donors give precisely because they perceive that the goals of J Streetmatch their own: to weaken the State of Israel and undermine the U.S.-Israel relationship?
In the classic chicken-and-the-egg question: Does J Street set its policies to attract their donations, or do the contributors set J Streetpolicies?
At the same time, do the well-meaning progressive and true friends of Israel know who else is filling the coffers at J Street and its PAC? They should look up the records on the FEC website and enter J Street PAC’s ID number C00441949.
A “pro-Israel” organization’s bona fides should be judged by the company it keeps, and the FEC documents suggest that J Streetkeeps questionable company indeed.
Some of the donations to the PAC are small $10-25 amounts, but others are $10,000 per quarter. And some of the donors appear in more than one quarter, suggesting that they were not accidental contributors and that they were possibly solicited on more than one occasion. The listing of the donors’ occupation on the FEC forms also suggests that the J Street leaders knew who many of the donors were. J Street claims to be Washingtoninsiders, so clearly they knew that Nancy Dutton was the Saudi Embassy’s attorney and the widow and law partner of the long-time and well-known Saudi foreign agent, Fred Dutton.
It is difficult to find on J Street’s web pages the name of Genevieve Lynch, one of nine members of the board of the National Iranian American Council, a group that allegedly echoes the positions of the Iranian regime. Buried in Lynch’s NIAC biography is the fact that she serves on J Street’s elite 50-member Finance Committee (with its $10,000 contribution threshhold). Why would the NIAC board member give at least $10,000 to J Street PAC and another NIAC leader give at least $1,000? Perhaps it is because of the very close relationship between the two organizations. In June the directors of both organizations co-authored an article in the Huffington Post, “How Diplomacy with Iran Can Work,” arguing against imposing new tough sanctions on Iran.
The two organizations have worked in lockstep over the last year to torpedo congressional action against Iran. As one anti-Israel blogger wrote in September 2008, “J Street played a key role in dealing that astonishing defeat to AIPAC in Congress — in which a coalition of peace groups and religious groups spearheaded by the National Iranian American Council lobbied effectively against a belligerent resolution, House 362, that had been expected to pass overwhelmingly and that would have urged Bush to impose a kind of embargo on Iranian exports.”
Why would a supposedly “pro-Israel, pro-peace” organization work so hard to block legislation that would undermine the Iranian ayatollah regime? Ostensibly, any step to hinder Iran’s nuclear development and block aid to Hamas and Hizbullah would be a step toward regional peace. Deterring Iran through sanctions would lessen the need for military action against Iran. Therefore, blocking sanctions or championing Hamas’ cause just doesn’t make sense.
A cozy relationship between J Streetand Arab American organizations is also apparent in the FEC public records. One of the largest donors to the J Street PAC (more than $10,000) and a member of J Street’s elite Finance Committee is Richard Abdoo (pictured), a Midwest businessman who also serves on the Board of Governors of the Arab American Institute. In June, the director of J Street was a guest speaker at the annual conference of the Arab lobbying group, the Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee. Appearing on the same panel was Representative Donna Edwards (D-MD), one the few Members of Congress who refused to support a congressional resolution in January 2009 that recognized Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas.
The same week as their joint appearance, J Street PAC announced that a blitz fundraising campaign for Edwards raised an impressive $30,000. In mid-June Edwards produced a film clip thanking J Streetfor their contribution. When Edwards’ and J Street PAC’s second quarter reports were recently filed with the FEC, Lynch, Abdoo and a board member of the controversial Human Rights Watch were among the largest contributors.
Supporters of J Street should know that their contributions to the PAC are a matter of public record. They owe it to their own reputations to see who’s on the roster alongside their names.
Does J Street’s leadership perpetrate fraud when they portrays themselves as “pro-Israel” to pro-Israel and anti-Israel audiences at the same time? The question should be left to legal authorities, J Street donors and the court of public opinion to decide. In Jewish law, however, there is a concept of gneyvat da’at – knowingly misrepresenting oneself. Of that, J Street is guilty.
J Street maintains three fiscal entities: its main organization, the political action committee, and a campus education organization. Only the last two are transparent under U.S. law, with contribution lists provided as public record to the Internal Revenue Service and the Federal Election Committee. But what of J Street’s non-transparent main organization? Are there contributions from Iranian-related or Arab-American sources as there are to the PAC? Does J Street solicit money from anti-Israel sources using the methods Human Rights Watch used to raise money in Saudi Arabia – bashing Israel? Do the contributions explain J Street’s opposition to Iranian sanctions, its “even-handed” policy on the issue of Israel’s war against Hamas, and its support for Caryl Churchill’s anti-Semitic play, Seven Jewish Children?
Only opening all of its financial books will give J Street the kosher certification the progressive, pro-Israel, pro-peace community deserves.
A shorter version of this article appears in The Jerusalem Post .