Is it really "pro-Israel" to call out for talks with Hamas?
J Street, the controversial pressure group, explains on the "About Us" page on its official website that "J Street is the political arm of the pro-Israel, pro-peace movement.” Since its inception in 2008, J Street has undergone growth that must be considered no less than remarkable.
In large part, the success of J Street has occurred without any serious investigations into how this group grew so incredibly fast and just where it came from.
Jeffrey Goldberg, writing for The Atlantic on October 27, 2009, stated “J Street grew organically, and continues to grow organically.” Goldberg’s essay was published during J Street’s first conference. The conference was held near Capitol Hill and 1,500 delegates attended. An October 29m, JTA news service report stated “activists had meetings in 210 of the 535 lawmakers' offices on the Hill, including about 100 meetings with the lawmakers themselves…”
Organic? How could such a new group create such a powerful infrastructure and nurture such impressive contacts so quickly? There should be no doubt that J Street came from somewhere. The question is from where?
The statement on the "About Us" page goes on to state:
“J Street was founded to change the dynamics of American politics and policy on Israel and the Middle East. We believe the security and future of Israel as the democratic home of the Jewish people depend on rapidly achieving a two-state solution and regional comprehensive peace. Our mission is to promote meaningful American leadership to achieve peace and security in the Middle East and to broaden the debate on these issues nationally and in the Jewish community."
On J Street website’s “Myths and Facts about J Street” page, J Street declares:
“J Street's Advisory Council consists of over 170 prominent Americans - including three Former Members of Congress, 28 Rabbis, a number of former Jewish community leaders and professionals, and many others.”
Researchers with the Philadelphia Chapter of Americans For A Safe Israel/AFSI initiated a study of the rabbis connected to J Street in order to understand just what the backgrounds of “former Jewish community leaders” involved in J Street are. What light can be shed on J Street’s agenda by examining its structure and organization?
Being Philadelphia based, AFSI researchers had prior familiarity with many of these players. A large number of J Street rabbis have played senior leadership roles in the Pennsylvania based Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and the locally headquartered network of Jewish Renewal organizations. A cadre of these individuals were also leaders of the now defunct Philadelphia chapter of New Jewish Agenda, which was specifically noted for its radical stance -- even in that radical group.
The results of the AFSI research into these rabbis is startling.
A JTA report from October 25, 2009 stated that “The left-wing lobby J Street is absorbing Brit Tzedek v'Shalom's chapters and rabbinic wing.”
The national president of Brit Tzedek v'Shalom at the time of the merger was Steve Masters. Masters is a Philadelphia attorney and a former leader of the Philadelphia Chapter of the New Jewish Agenda. Jeremy Ben-Ami, the executive director of J Street, was introduced by Masters at a local kick-off event in Philadelphia on February 4, 2010.
Many of Brit Tzedek v'Shalom’s rabbis were among the founders and key activists of New Jewish Agenda including Rabbi Gerald Serotta, Arthur Waskow, Rabbi Everett Gendler and others. Serotta, Waskow and Gendler are also all involved in a group called Jewish Fast For Gaza – but more on that later. Waskow attended the February 4, 2010 event also.
It is well worth noting that many of these rabbis were first involved in an organization called Breira (meaning alternative) that was universally opposed by almost all sectors of the American Jewish community. I. L. Kenen the founder of AIPAC claimed that Breira "undermined U.S. support for Israel."
The majority of Brit Tzedek v'Shalom/J Street rabbis hold radical views that go far past anything that even Breira advocated in its hay day.
Half of the rabbis on J Street’s Advisory Council were members of Brit Tzedek v'Shalom’s Rabbinic Cabinet - before the merge.
There is a very significant overlap between the rabbis from Brit Tzedek v'Shalom and the Jewish Fast for Gaza group. Fast for Gaza made its first public announcement in July 2009. Rabbi Brian Walt was listed as the contact for the group’s initial press release. Walt is a member of Brit Tzedek v'Shalom’s Rabbinic Cabinet.
The Fast for Gaza group purpose is "To call upon Israel, the US, and the international community to engage in negotiations without pre-conditions with all relevant Palestinian parties - including Hamas - in order to end the blockade…"
Here are the facts:
More than half of the seventy-eight rabbis listed on the Fast for Gaza website are also members of Brit Tzedek v'Shalom’s Rabbinic Cabinet. Put another way, about 12.5 % of all of Brit Tzedek v'Shalom’s Rabbinic Cabinet are involved with the Fast for Gaza and call for talks with Hamas.
For example, Rabbi Arthur Green is listed by J Street as an Advisory Council member. Green is a former dean of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College (RRC) and was a prominent member of Breira. Another Advisory Council member is the former president of RRC, Rabbi David A. Teutsch. Rabbi Mordechai Liebling, a former director of the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation, is on Brit Tzedek v'Shalom’s Rabbinic Cabinet and is a “Rabbinical Supporter of the Fast for Gaza”. Teutsch too attended J Street’s February 4, 2010 event.
Breira. New Jewish Agenda. Brit Tzedek v'Shalom. Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. Is J Street really just old wine in a new bottle? Has this wine turned to vinegar? Where are the likes of I. L. Kenen among today’s American Jewish leaders to stand up to J Street? An article on the website of the Forward newspaper (December 9, 2009) states that Israel's Ambassador Michael Oren recently publicly labeled J Street as "a unique problem in that it not only opposes one policy of one Israeli government, it opposes all policies of all Israeli governments. It's significantly out of the mainstream..."
Ambassador Oren should have been applauded for his statement. And loudly. After all, shouldn’t it be apparent to even the casual observer that forces within the highest echelons of the Obama Administration and/or the Democratic Party are assisting J Street, or perhaps even pulling its strings?
Moshe Phillips is a member of the Executive Committee of the Philadelphia Chapter of Americans for a Safe Israel/AFSI. The chapter's website is at: phillyafsi.com and Moshe's blog can be found at phillyafsi.blogtownhall.com.