Myths and Facts
GET THE FACTS ON:
Does J Street Support Israel?
What Are J Street's Policies?
Who are J Street's Endorsed Candidates?
Who Donates to J Street?
Who Makes Up J Street's Staff and Leadership?
How Does J Street Interact with the Jewish Community?
The New Smear Documentary The J Street Challenge
Does J Street Support Israel?
FACT: We are devoted and committed to Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic homeland living within secure and internationally recognized borders. The issue is: How do we get there? We believe that a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the single best chance we have to secure this future.
We believe in the Zionist ideal on which Israel was founded—that of a Jewish homeland where Jews can always go to be secure. We hope that Israel will live up to and represent the core Jewish values of justice, equality and democracy.
We do not believe that agreeing with everything the current Israeli government does should be the litmus test for what it means to be pro-Israel.
We believe, like many American supporters of Israel, in a big-tent concept of what it means to be pro-Israel. We are also hopeful that our efforts will encourage more Americans, especially young Americans, who have previously been uncomfortable with describing themselves as pro-Israel, to find a home in our vision of what it means to be pro-Israel.
See below for a list of J Street statements welcoming Israeli actions:
“Kerry Announces Resumption of Peace Talks,” July 19, 2013
“J Street Welcomes Dermer as New Israeli Ambassador,” July 9, 2013.
“Israeli-Palestinian Agreement on UNESCO Encouraging,” April 24, 2013.
“J Street statement on Israeli-Turkish reconciliation,” March 23, 2013.
“J Street Response to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Address to the United Nations General Assembly,” September 27, 2012.
“J Street Statement on the Evacuation of Migron,” September 3, 2012.
“J Street Welcomes Peaceful Evacuation of 5 Buildings in Ulpana,” June 27, 2012.
“Israel hands over remains of 91 Palestinian militants in effort to renew peace talks,” June 2, 2012.
“J Street statement on Hebron, East Jerusalem settlements,” April 4, 2012.
“J Street Responds to Israeli, Palestinian Meeting in Amman,” January 3, 2012.
“J Street Applauds Deal to Release Gilad Shalit,” October 11, 2011.
“J Street Applauds Israeli Cabinet Approval of Ghajar Withdrawal Plan,” November 18, 2010.
“Statement on Announcement of Direct Talks,” August 20, 2010.
“Statement on Israeli Cabinet Decision Regarding Gaza Blockade,” June 17, 2010.
“J Street Welcomes Launch of Proximity Talks,” May 3, 2010.
“Israeli-Palestinian Proximity Talks Announced,” March 10, 2010.
“Statement on Announcement of Proximity Talks,” March 8, 2010.
“Statement on US-Israeli-Palestinian trilateral meeting,” September 22, 2010.
“J Street statement on PM Netanyahu's address at Bar-Ilan University,” June 15, 2009.
FACT: Polling shows that J Street’s positions are in step with those of the vast majority of American Jews.
Like J Street, American Jews support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, by 79%, according to a 2012 election night survey by GBA Strategies and commissioned by J Street. Similarly, in the 2013 Pew survey--the most extensive poll of American Jews to-date--61% agreed that “there is a way for Israel and an independent Palestinian state to coexist peacefully.” Like J Street, American Jews support US leadership to help Israel and the Palestinians reach a peace agreement by 81%, according to GBA Strategies. According to a 2012 poll by Zogby Research Services, 50% of American Jews believe that peace would be more likely if the US demonstrated clear resolve to push for a deal.
FACT: J Street has been very clear in every public statement that it believes that all sides--including Israel, the Palestinians and Arab states--will have to take steps and make compromises if the Arab-Israeli conflict is to be settled peacefully.
J Street has called on the Palestinians to live up to their commitments to end incitement and violence, and on Arab nations to take steps toward normalization of relations with Israel.
J Street has also been critical of Holocaust denial by Hamas and Iran, the use of the Durban II conference to promote anti-Semitism, and support for violence and incitement against Israel in the Arab world.
See below for a list of recent J Street statements on the subject:
“J Street Condemns Killing of Israeli Soldiers,” September 23, 2013.
“J Street Condemns Fatal Stabbing of Israeli in West Bank, Concerned by Upsurge in Violence,” December 10, 2012.
“J Street Condemns Hateful Speech by Hamas Leader,” December 10, 2012.
“J Street Condemns President Ahmadinejad's Anti-Israel Remarks,” September 24, 2012.
“J Street Statement on Iranian Leaders’ Anti-Israel Remarks,” August 20, 2012.
“J Street Statement on Iranian First Vice President’s Anti-Semitic Remarks,” June 27, 2012.
“J Street Condemns Tragic Terrorist Attack in Southern Israel,” August 18, 2011.
“J Street Condemns Rocketing of Beersheva,” August 16, 2011.
“Statement on Jerusalem Bus Bombing,” March 23, 2011.
“Statement on Itamar Massacre,” March 12, 2011.
“J Street Condemns Jordanian Minister Mjali’s Call to Release Murderer,” February 17, 2011.
“J Street Condemns PA Official’s Denial of Jewish Connection to Western Wall,” November 27, 2010.
“J Street Condemns Iranian President Ahmadinejad,” September 23, 2010.
“J Street Urges All Sides to Refrain from Unilateral Action, Renounce Incitement as Direct Talks Begin,” August 31, 2010.
“J Street Strongly Condemns Palestinian Incitement,” April 9, 2010.
“J Street Condemns PA’s Honoring of Terrorist,” March 12, 2010.
“Statement on Israeli Interception of Arms Ship in Mediterranean,” November 5, 2009.
“J Street Denounces Iranian President,” September 23, 2010.
“Statement on Hamas' Holocaust Denial,” September 1, 2009.
“J Street statement on Bat Ayin terrorist attack,” April 2, 2009.
“J Street statement on terrorist attack in Jerusalem,” March 5, 2009.
FACT: J Street U chapters prominently advertise themselves as pro-Israel, and have never decided to drop the term.
J Street U’s pro-Israel doesn’t have an anti. The students are very cognizant that support for a Palestinian state is a pro-Israel position, making the group both pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian.
When these erroneous press reports first came out, J Street U issued a number of statements reaffirming its pledge to being pro-Israel. It stressed that the single most pro-Israel position one can take is to be firmly committed to the achievement of a two-state solution. You can view them on J Street U's website.
FACT: J Street missions to Israel and the West Bank seek to offer a comprehensive view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with insight into many different perspectives. They include meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders and activists, Israeli security experts and even members of Israeli settlement communities. In one instance, a J Street tour stopped at Yasser Arafat’s tomb while waiting for another appointment, not to “pay respects,” but to learn about an important piece of the history of the conflict. It is impossible to understand the Palestinian narrative without understanding Arafat’s historical significance. We believe that by understanding the history, narratives and emotions of the past, we will be better equipped to help end the conflict and build a more peaceful future.
FACT: J Street supporters are deeply attached to Israel and feel just as much pain, fear and sorrow as the rest of the Jewish community when Israel is threatened. In these times of crisis, we want to be able to stand up in our community and express our solidarity with the people of Israel.
Our public record throughout the current military confrontation in Gaza has been unambiguous: we support Israel's right to defend its citizens.
We have condemned Hamas’ violent tactics and expressed solidarity with the Israeli people who are enduring the unspeakable terror of rocket fire. We have also made clear our anguish over the deaths of Israeli soldiers, Palestinian civilians and our firm belief that the only way to truly end this conflict is through a political solution. We have backed both Egyptian and US efforts to broker a ceasefire agreement, and condemned Hamas for rejecting a truce proposal. We have also raised questions about what we, as a community, can and must do help prevent another violent escalation in the future. These sentiments express what our movement believes being pro-Israel requires of us in times of crisis.
In solidarity with Israel during this difficult time, we have co-sponsored pro-Israel community-wide rallies in Philadelphia and San Diego. While we chose not to co-sponsor one rally in Boston, we sent representatives and mobilized support for the event, just as we have for events in many other communities nationwide.
Our reasons for withdrawing our co-sponsorship from the Boston event are explained by Northeast Regional Director Shaina Wasserman in this letter to Jeremy Burton, Executive Director of the Boston Jewish Community Relations Council.
We decide whether to officially sponsor solidarity rallies based in part on whether the organizers provide an inclusive space for J Street supporters. This does not require the presence of J Street signs or speakers, or even that our views be voiced from the podium, though we would welcome all three. We acknowledge that there are times when the community simply aims to gather the largest possible number to express its depth of solidarity with Israel, requiring a broad and maximally inclusive message. To be clear: we want to be able to be a part of these efforts. What we ask is that we be given the same consideration and access as all other members of the pro-Israel community in shaping that message.
We remain committed to working within the community to build large and inclusive events that voice the breadth and depth of the support that exists for Israel in these times of crisis, and for ensuring its long-term peace and security.
FACT: We support Israel’s right to defend itself militarily and believe that maintaining Israel’s qualitative military advantage in the region is one essential element of a strategy to keep Israel secure for the long term.
We believe that it is equally important to Israel’s long-term survival and security to achieve a two-state resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, to define internationally accepted borders for Israel and to gain broader diplomatic acceptance of Israel in the Middle East.
We believed that Israel’s military action in Gaza in December 2008-January 2009 was both understandable and justifiable. No country can be expected to absorb thousands of rockets without the right to respond militarily.
To us, the question was whether the specific military action chosen actually advanced Israeli interests and security in the long-term and whether there weren’t alternative strategies for ending the violence from Gaza through diplomacy.
Read our statements on Operation Pillar of Defense:
“Reaction to Escalation of Violence in Israel and Gaza,” November 15, 2012.
“A Ceasefire in Gaza,” November 21, 2012.
FACT: In 2012, J Street chose not to support or oppose the United Nations resolution to make Palestine a non-member state observer. As an organization dedicated to securing Israel’s Jewish and democratic future through the achievement of a two-state solution, we chose to focus on where we could have a real impact. Given that it was near-certain that the General Assembly would support the resolution, it was the actions of Israeli, Palestinian and American leaders in the critical days after the vote that would determine whether the resolution’s passage would advance or set back the prospects for the two-state solution. Subsequently, we focused on building support for sustained diplomatic leadership from the US to help Israel and the Palestinians reach a peace agreement. We also worked to defeat actions that could have sabotaged peace efforts, particularly attempts to punish the Palestinians for their UN bid by cutting funding to the Palestinian Liberation Organization and closing their mission to the US.
Read our statement explaining our position.
FACT: J Street believes that Iran obtaining nuclear weapons would pose a very serious threat to American and Israeli interests and to peace and stability in the Middle East and around the world. The United States has a fundamental interest, along with Israel and the international community, in preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability, and J Street supports concrete American actions to address this threat. We support a comprehensive and multilateral approach, including sanctions and active diplomacy. To that end, J Street has lobbied for the passage of strong sanctions against the Iranian regime.
This strategy of sanctions and diplomacy has proven successful, compelling Iran back to the negotiating table for talks with world powers. We saw a promising first step in November 2013, when these P5+1 negotiations yielded an interim agreement that has reigned in the most dangerous elements of Iran’s program--with unprecedented monitoring and verification--in exchange for minor economic relief. As US negotiators now work to reach a final deal that would resolve concerns over Iran’s program once-and-for-all, we oppose any Congressional effort to limit the President’s authority to pursue diplomacy with Iran.
We also support American efforts to bolster pro-democracy efforts by civil society reformers in Iran. Human rights should be part of the agenda of U.S. and international engagement with Iran and the region as a whole.
Finally, like many American and Israeli security experts, we believe that a military strike against Iran would have uncertain and potentially disastrous consequences (Click here to see 'What The Experts Are Saying On Iran'). While unlikely to permanently disable Iran’s nuclear program, a military strike would have dire consequences and runs the risk of igniting a broader regional war. A preemptive attack could also strengthen the current regime in Iran and provide an excuse for it to redouble its nuclear efforts. We therefore oppose legislation authorizing, encouraging, or in other ways laying the groundwork for the use of military force against Iran.
FACT: J Street believes that Hamas’ consistent opposition to the peace process, its support for terror against Israeli civilians, its use of violence for political purposes and its repeated denial of the Holocaust are all reprehensible and abominable.
We also recognize that one makes peace with one’s enemies, not one’s friends. Hamas is a political movement that has an important and significant base of support within Palestinian society and politics. Ultimately, a political resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will require Palestinian political reconciliation between the West Bank and Gazan polities.
While we oppose official contact with Hamas until it meets the Quartet’s conditions, we would not oppose a decision by the Israeli government, the US, or other countries to find unofficial, indirect ways to engage Hamas in order to advance US and Israeli interests. For instance, it is important to remember that this Israeli government and prior ones have engaged indirectly with Hamas over such issues as bringing home Gilad Shalit and achieving ceasefires that halt rocket attacks against Israel.
FACT: J Street acknowledged that it had misstated the number of civilians killed by the Israel Defense Forces and issued a correction.
FACT: J Street is opposed to one-sided and biased action at the United Nations based on the Goldstone Report, and had the Security Council considered a resolution referring charges against Israel to the International Criminal Court, we would have urged the United States to exercise its veto.
The United Nations and other international bodies such as the Human Rights Council have a demonstrable history of bias against Israel and have focused disproportionate attention on Israel at the expense of numerous other serious human rights crises around the globe.
We urged Israel to launch its own credible, independent investigation as it has at several critical points in its history. In this, we echoed the position of many leading Israelis, notably including former Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor, former Attorney General Menachem Mazuz and former Supreme Court Chief Justice Aharon Barak. Israel conducted its own investigation, the details of which can be read here.
We oppose efforts to personally demonize both Judge Goldstone and Israeli human rights advocates and their supporters. There is ample room in a vibrant democracy for disagreement over matters of principle without the need to resort to ad hominem attacks.
We urge fellow critics of the report to confine their attacks and critiques to the substance and methodology of the report and the appropriate measures that should and should not be taken going forward, and not the characters of those who created it or brought violations to light.
FACT: The Washington Times falsely reported that J Street set up meetings for Judge Goldstone on Capitol Hill, a lie exposed by JTA. Former Israeli consul general Colette Avital remained actively involved with J Street and joined J Street for a speaking tour in October 2010. Ambassador Avital’s statement on the false Washington Times report is available here.
FACT: J Street did not oppose the US House and Senate letters about the flotilla incident, but urged members of Congress to seek changes to the letters or write their own.
Though the sign-on letters expressed strong American support for Israel--a position we endorse-- they failed to address the impact of the closure of Gaza on the civilian population, the deep American interest in resolving this conflict diplomatically, or the urgency of moving forward with diplomacy before it is too late. By ignoring these critical issues in favor of a simplistic statement that supports Israeli policy and actions, the letters served neither the best interests of the United States nor of Israel.
The letter J Street sent to members of Congress is available here.
J Street’s statement from the day of the flotilla incident is available here.
FACT: J Street urged the United States and Israel to prevent a UN Security Council vote on this resolution by clearly laying out a bold vision for peace or freezing Israeli settlement construction.
We do believe that Israel has been unfairly singled out at the UN and hope never to see Israel publicly taken to task in that forum. However, we argued that--if the resolution came to a vote--it would undermine America’s credibility and policy to veto a resolution that so closely tracked US policy across eight bipartisan administrations and called on both parties to take necessary steps for peace.
FACT: J Street never issued a single statement related to Mary Robinson.
Individuals associated with J Street’s public relations firm may have done some personal work on the issue--but that had nothing to do with J Street, just as that firm’s work for dozens of other clients is completely unrelated to J Street.
FACT: J Street supports political candidates who support Israeli security and peace in the Middle East.
To be eligible for JStreetPAC endorsement, a political candidate must demonstrate that they support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, active US leadership to help end the conflict, the special relationship between the US and Israel, continued aid to the Palestinian Authority and opposition to the Boycott/Divestment/Sanction movement.
In evaluating candidates for endorsement, we interview both the candidates and their opponents about their views on issues related to American policy toward Israel and the Middle East. The PAC does not interview candidates about any other issue, and its endorsement should not read to imply support for their positions on any other issue.
FACT: J Street is an American organization that works within American politics to advocate for bold, US leadership to achieve two states and a regional comprehensive peace in the Middle East. We do not represent or affiliate with any Israeli political party.
We are happy to engage with any Israeli leaders about the importance of a strong relationship with Israel and the American Jewish community. We represent a very large and growing segment of the American Jewish community, and believe that Israeli leaders’ engagement with this constituency is crucial to the health of Israel’s relationship with the Diaspora and to ensuring a long-term base of support for Israel in the United States.
Our 2013 national conference was attended by nine Knesset Members from six political parties: Yesh Atid, Labor, Meretz, HaT’nuah, Shas and Likud-Beiteinu. The breadth of this representation by Israeli leaders speaks to the growing recognition across the Israeli political spectrum of the need for a two-state solution.
FACT: J Street has thousands of donors, large and small. We don’t know the religious or ethnic backgrounds of all of them, but we do know that they are primarily individual Jewish Americans. J Street accepts no funding from foreign governments or from foreign organizations.
Even the source of this smear, an article in the Jerusalem Post, said: “The funds that come from these sources [Arab and Muslim Americans] indeed constitute a small fraction of the year-and-a- half-old organization’s political fundraising, which totaled around $844,000 in 2008 – a key election year – and $111,000 so far in 2009. They comprise several dozen of the PAC’s 4,000-5,000 donors.” You don’t have to take our word for it. JStreetPAC, by law, reports all of its thousands of donors to the Federal Election Commission, and those reports can be publicly reviewed on the website of the Federal Election Commission.
J Street also listed the names of its major donors (members of its Finance Committee) in its annual reports. Many of its major donors are also members of its Advisory Council, which can be viewed on our website.
Again, a quick review will show that nearly all our top donors are leading American Jewish philanthropists and political activists.
Yes, a tiny portion of J Street’s support comes from non-Jewish Americans (including some Arab- and some Muslim-Americans, as well as some Americans of other backgrounds). J Street, in fact, welcomes support from all Americans who believe in assertive U.S. diplomacy to resolve the conflicts in the Middle East and the establishment of two states living side by side in peace and security.
As a primarily but not exclusively Jewish organization, J Street believes that support from non-Jews for our pro-Israel positions is actually extremely helpful to Israel – and helps ensure a long-term base of support for Israel’s security. We are proud of our cooperation with non-Jews--Christians and Muslims--who share our recognition that peace and long-term security will only come to the Middle East when Jews find common ground with Arabs – both Muslim and Christian--and a formula for sharing one land among two peoples through a two-state solution.
FACT: George Soros did not found J Street. In fact, Soros very publicly stated his decision not to be engaged in J Street when it was launched--precisely out of fear that his involvement would be used against the organization. Soros has provided regular annual donations to J Street, that comprise just over seven percent of its funding.
J Street has thousands of donors, large and small. The supporters of the political action committee (JStreetPAC) can be publicly reviewed on the website of the Federal Election Commission. The top donors to J Street are members of the organization’s Finance Committee – listed in its annual reports. Many of its major donors are also members of its Advisory Council.
FACT: J Street has always said that George Soros did not found J Street and did not provide its seed funding – a decision about which he was very public before the organization’s launching in 2008.
J Street has also always said that it would be very pleased to have funding from Soros. In fact, the organization has received approximately $500,000/year in funding from the Soros family since launching.
Overall, the J Street family of organizations--its legally-independent PAC, the 501(c)(3) Education Fund and the (c)(4) lobby--has now raised approximately $35 million in just over five years. The Soros family has contributed just over seven percent of the overall funding.
Our largest sources of funding since 2008 have included the Nathan Cummings Foundation, the Sandler Foundation and the Skoll Global Threats Fund which have donated to the 501(c)(3) Education Fund, and donations that have been made or raised by William Benter. As we have publicly acknowledged before, the contributions that made it possible to launch J Street came from Alan and Deborah Sagner and Davidi Gilo.
Overall, we have over 20,000 donors to the various organizations, and are committed to the full disclosure of our donors required by the law. We are also committed to protecting the privacy of our donors, which is guaranteed by law in the case of contributions to our 501(c)(4) and was egregiously violated by the Internal Revenue Service in erroneously and illegally making our donor schedule available to the public.
For a full explanation of George Soros’ role as a J Street donor, please see Jeremy Ben-Ami’s statement on our blog.
FACT: Some press reports have noted a large contribution on our 2009 tax return from a resident of Hong Kong named Consolacion Esdicul. The explanation for this is straightforward: Bill Benter, a philanthropist and political activist from Pittsburgh, is a major supporter of and contributor to J Street. He is a generous donor to a range of causes related to his hometown, national politics and the Arab-Israeli conflict, and a passionate advocate for peace.
As we were launching J Street, Benter committed to contribute and to help raise substantial funds for the effort should we get it off the ground. One contribution he helped raise was from Ms. Esdicul, a business associate from Hong Kong, where he lives for part of the year and has business holdings.
The Esdicul contribution represents a significant portion of the one tax filing that was leaked – and seems high when viewed in isolation – but it represents only a small percentage of the money raised by all aspects of J Street since it was launched.
Our Staff and Leadership
FACT: J Street’s Advisory Council consists of over 200 prominent Americans – including former members of Congress, rabbis, former Jewish community leaders and professionals, and many others. Click here for the full list.
Some on the Council have been publicly critical of Israeli policy – and so has J Street, at times. We do not equate opposition to the policies of a particular Israeli government or official with being anti- Israel – just as we don’t equate opposition to a particular American party or official with being anti- American.
We have a particular view on the policies that would be most beneficial to Israel and to the United States – and we realize that there are those who disagree. We urge an open and robust debate on the merits of our positions and an end to ad hominem attacks and name.
It is worth noting as well that J Street has the support of numerous Israeli security officials, foreign officers, politicians, writers, and artists. Click here for that list and to see a video featuring prominent Israeli supporters of J Street.
FACT: J Street publicly releases the survey methodology, composition of the sample and the full question wording for our polls of American Jews. This full disclosure and transparency reflects J Street’s commitment to opening up its research to professional scrutiny and is unparalleled among other organizations conducting public opinion research of American Jews.
Some who disagree with J Street choose to attack the credibility of our pollster, rather than debate the views held by the vast majority of American Jews. Jim Gerstein’s role as a founding member of J Street’s Board of Directors has in no way influenced his accuracy as a pollster, or the recorded opinions of American Jews.
Over the past few years, J Street’s opinion research has confirmed what surveys by other organizations have shown over the years: the majority of Jewish Americans hold moderate views when it comes to Israel and the Middle East.
A majority of Jewish Americans support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, oppose expanding settlements in the West Bank, and favor assertive American diplomacy to end the Israeli-Arab and Israeli-Palestinian conflicts. They supported Barack Obama for president by 70 percent over Mitt Romney in the 2012 elections, and they have consistently been among the most progressive American voters on a whole range of foreign and domestic policy issues.
Gerstein’s views on Israel and the Middle East are no secret --nor is his involvement as a key and early founder of J Street.
He was the Executive Director of the Center for Middle East Peace and Economic Cooperation for many years. He lived in Israel in the late 1990s, where he was a member of Ehud Barak’s polling and communications team, and he currently serves as secretary of the board of the American Friends of the Yitzhak Rabin Center and on the board of Americans for Peace Now.
Much as Romney and Obama chose pollsters who shared their politics to guide them through the 2012 campaign, J Street chose Gerstein to be its lead pollster and a key strategist precisely because he combines a pro-Israel, pro-peace perspective on issues relating to Israel and the Middle East with deep expertise in analyzing American politics.
FACT: As stated in his bio on our website, Jeremy Ben-Ami was a Senior Vice President at Fenton Communications from late 2004 until the end of 2007, at which time he resigned to launch J Street.
Ben-Ami has retained no connection to Fenton after he left the firm, has had no involvement in its management and operations, and has had no financial interest in and has received no compensation from the firm since that time. J Street does not retain Fenton Communications and has had no formal or informal relationship with the firm.
The contract between Fenton Communications and the Qatar Foundation was entered into in early 2009, over a year after Ben-Ami left the firm. Ben-Ami is unaware of any contact between the firm and the Foundation during his employment at Fenton. Any contact between Fenton Communications and the Foundation occurred after he left--and without his knowledge.
FACT: Jeremy Ben-Ami co-founded Ben-Or Communications in 1998 and left the company at the end of 1999. For eleven years, since moving from Israel back to the United States, Ben-Ami has had no involvement in management or operation of the business. In that time, he has never received one penny from the company. The company is a small business, which pays no dividends and whose shares have no market value.
FACT: Daniel Levy was part of the original group that conceived of J Street. He is Israeli and worked for the Israeli government as part of the team negotiating with the Palestinians in the period after Camp David in 2000-2001, including at Taba. Prior to that, he was a part of the negotiating team in the mid-1990’s during his Israeli Defense Forces service, under Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
Levy has been a life-long Zionist, having made aliyah at age 23 after having been elected president of the World Union of Jewish Students. He has worked passionately to secure Israel’s future through a two-state solution for nearly twenty years.
He believes that resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict requires recognition that the dream of the Jewish people for a home of their own was realized in 1948 by a war , one result of which was the creation of the Palestinian refugee crisis.
Levy’s remarks have been misreported.
In an answer to a question on a panel he appeared on in Doha, Qatar, Levy argued in favor of progressive Zionism. He did not call Israel’s creation “an act that was wrong.” He believes that the events that led to the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem included acts that were wrong. These acts took place against the background of a war for the survival of the nascent state of Israel just three years after the end of the Holocaust.
Levy went on to say that he sees no reason why Palestinians would agree with his response to that history, “I don’t expect Palestinians to think that,” he said. Levy asks hard and challenging questions of all sides while ultimately advocating for a coalition for ending the conflict.
Right-wing bloggers also took Levy’s words out of context in 2011, after he spoke on a plenary at J Street’s second national conference. They claimed that Levy had argued that “Israel really ain’t a very good idea,” when in fact, he had made the opposite case.
Levy’s argument was against the cynical premise that Israel can never be accepted by its neighbors in the Middle East, and therefore, it is condemned forever to “live by the sword.” Dismissing this myth, Levy said that those who “believe Israel can live in that space” are the “real embracers of the idea of Israel.” He argued that there is hope, that through a two-state resolution of its conflict with the Palestinians, Israel can reach peace agreements with its neighbors and achieve long-term peace and security.
The accusations against Levy were debunked by New Republic writer Jonathan Chait, who said:
“The quote here is making the opposite of the point Kristol suggests. Levy is arguing that if his opponent’s premise is true, then Israel is not a good idea. He is making that point in order to discredit his opponents’ premise. This is a very common form of argumentation: if we believe A, then we must believe B, and since B is false, we shouldn’t believe A. For Kristol to cite such an argument as evidence the speaker believes B is… completely unsurprising actually.”
FACT: On one occasion, J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami referred to the organized Jewish establishment as a “multi-headed hydra.” He was trying to make the point that the Jewish community is not monolithic, but in fact has a diverse pantheon of organizations.
FACT: J Street seeks to widen the pro-Israel conversation and encourage open debate in our community.
Wrestling with conflicting ideas is a long-standing Jewish tradition, and we abandon that tradition at our peril. We disagree with the tendency of organizations in the Jewish community to welcome only those viewpoints with which they agree. We welcome debate with activists from across the political spectrum because we are confident that our ideas offer the best protection for Israel’s democracy and Jewish character, while the best way to combat bad ideas is to debate their merits in the light of day.
FACT: J Street very clearly opposes the global BDS movement and believes that actions that target the state of Israel or its people are incompatible with our vision of Israel and incompatible with a two- state resolution of the conflict. Our full policy positions are available here.
We believe that it serves the long-term health and vibrancy of our community to engage in discussions of the substance of these issues, even – and especially – when we have fundamental disagreements with some of the individuals or organizations we debate. Closing the door to an open, robust conversation only drives away many of those our community seeks to engage, especially when it comes to younger Jews.
It is for those reasons that we were proud to have speakers at our conference to the left and to the right of J Street’s own positions.
FACT: J Street and J Street U have stated their clear opposition to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, and J Street U has played a central role on campuses across the country in opposing BDS.
In March, 2014, J Street U at Smith College was asked to co-sponsor a panel on BDS with Students for Justice in Palestine. The panel was originally set to include Miri Talmon, a professor of Israel Studies and Israeli consulate-recommended speaker who has argued strongly against BDS. J Street U agreed to cosponsor the event, believing that it provided a good opportunity for the campus to air different perspectives regarding the boycott movement.
Unfortunately, Talmon decided to withdraw less than 24 hours before the event, and J Street U was not notified of the change in program. As a result, the panel only featured pro-BDS speakers--a missed opportunity for the pro-Israel community to publicly refute the case for boycotting Israel.
What happened at Smith underscores why its not enough to simply “boycott the boycotters.” The only way to defeat BDS is to bring to light the case against it, to prove that it’s a dead-end for both Israel and the Palestinians.
FACT: J Street is proud to have sponsored a speaking tour featuring John Ging, the Gaza Director of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). Ging’s commitment to peace and human rights should be an example for all of us working to resolve the conflict.
During that tour, Ging was interviewed by the New York Jewish Week and reiterated his opposition to boycotts of Israel.
A recording of Ging’s remarks in Washington, DC is available here.
FACT: Following an investigative report in the New York Times, J Street members urged Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to launch an investigation into allegations that some organizations funding settlement activities on the West Bank had broken US laws regarding terrorist financing and tax evasion. We did not raise question as to whether these groups have the legal right to raise funds for causes they believe in or whether donations benefiting settlements should be tax-deductible, but rather whether these funds were handled in accordance with US law.
FACT: J Street very clearly opposes BDS. J Street U at the University of California Berkeley was excluded from the school’s Jewish Student Union on the grounds that it hosted an event with Breaking the Silence, a group of Israeli combat veterans who are critical of Israeli policy in the West Bank. Considering that J Street U is the school’s fastest growing Jewish organization, and membership in the Jewish Student Union is intended to be representative of the Jewish community on campus, this was a disappointing outcome. However, J Street U Berkeley continues to have a vibrant and growing presence on campus and fosters close relations with the campus Hillel.
FACT: At its 2013 national conference, J Street featured a panel discussion entitled “Unpacking Birthright,” which focused on the challenges and opportunities for the Birthright program in helping young American Jews to form meaningful relationships with Israel. What ensued was a thoughtful and civil conversation, featuring current college students, as well as the director of a campus Hillel and a professor of Jewish studies at Brandeis University. To refer to it as an “anti-Birthright” panel is absurd.
FACT: This is a false allegation based on pictures from 2013 of two Washington University in St. Louis students who are not and have never been J Street U leaders. J Street U condemned the t-shirts as being hateful and inimical to J Street’s fundamental commitment to a non-violent, negotiated resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.