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J Street is a nonprofit advocacy group based in the United Statesmarker that promotes American leadership to end the Arab-Israeli and Palestinian-Israel conflicts peacefully and diplomatically. While primarily made up of Jews, J Street welcomes both Jewish and non-Jewish members. J Street states that it "supports a new direction for American policy in the Middle East - diplomatic solutions over military ones", "multilateral over unilateral approaches to conflict resolution"; and "dialogue over confrontation" with wider international support. According to J Street, its political action committee is "the first and only federal Political Action Committee whose goal is to demonstrate that there is meaningful political and financial support to candidates for federal office from large numbers of Americans who believe a new direction in American policy will advance U.S. interests in the Middle East and promote real peace and security for Israel and the region."

Meaning of name

J Street, being an American lobby organisation aimed at Washington, derived its name from the alphabetically named street plan of Washington: the J Street is missing from the grid (the street naming jumps from I Street to K Street). Also, by association, J refers to Jewish as in multiple English abbreviations. Further, "K Street," a street in the heart of downtown Washington, D.C.marker with powerhouse lobbying firms located on it, has become synonymous for Washington’s formidable lobbying establishment. The absence of a J Street in Washington is for historical/orthographic reasons. Thus, the choice of the name reflects the desire of J Street's founders and donors to bring a voice to Washington D.C. that, much like the missing "J Street" of the downtown grid, has been absent so far. It may also suggest being slightly different from the usual lobbying concerns.

Political vision

According to the J Street website, the organization seeks "to change the direction of American policy in the Middle East" and to become "the political arm of the pro-Israel, pro-peace movement."

J Street supports Israel and its desire for security as the Jewish homeland, as well as the right of the Palestinians to a sovereign state of their own. According to its executive director, Jeremy Ben-Ami, J Street is neither pro- nor anti- any individual organization or other pro-Israel umbrella groups like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). He says J Street is proud of AIPAC's many accomplishments and clarified that the two groups have different priorities rather than different views.

Explaining the need for a new advocacy and lobbying group, Ben-Ami stated: "J Street has been started, however, because there has not been sufficient vocal and political advocacy on behalf of the view that Israel's interests will be best served when the United States makes it a major foreign policy priority to help Israel achieve a real and lasting peace not only with the Palestinians but with all its neighbors. ."

Alan Solomont, one of the founders of J Street and a former national finance chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and currently a Democratic Party fundraiser, described the need for J Street in the following way:"We have heard the voices of neocons, and right-of-center Jewish leaders and Christian evangelicals, and the mainstream views of the American Jewish community have not been heard." During its first conference, Ben-Ami said that "[t]he party and the viewpoint that we're closest to in Israeli politics is actually Kadima." Kadima MK Meir Sheetrit, who attended the conference, said, "They are more left than Kadima, but on this main issue, which is peace, I think we agree."

J Street's official policy positions as of August 2009 are:
  • On Iranmarker: J Street is "supportive of President Obama‚Äôs effort to engage Iran diplomatically." "J street does not, in principle, oppose the imposition of further sanctions on Iran as part of American policy designed to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons." J Street references an US intelligence report that states that Iran isn't likely to gain nuclear capabilities prior to 2014.
  • On the Israel-Palestinian conflict: "J Street believes that reaching a sustainable two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is both a fundamental American interest and essential to the survival and security of Israel as a democracy and home for the Jewish people."
  • On Jerusalemmarker: "Jerusalem's ultimate status and borders should be negotiated and resolved as part of an agreement between official Israeli and Palestinian authorities and endorsed by both peoples." "J Street would support [...] a two-state solution under which the Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem would fall under Israeli sovereignty and the Arab neighborhoods would be under Palestinian sovereignty." "J Street does believe that Israel's capital is in Jerusalem and will be internationally recognized as such in the context of an agreed two-state solution."
  • On Israeli Settlements: "Israel's settlements in the occupied territories have, for over forty years, been an obstacle to peace. They have drained Israel's economy, military, and democracy and eroded the country's ability to uphold the rule of law."
  • On Syriamarker: "J Street believes that an Israeli-Syrian peace treaty would contribute significantly to stability and security in the region. The US should vigorously encourage and facilitate Israeli-Syrian peace talks, building on talks pursued previously under Israeli Prime Ministers Rabin, Netanyahu, Barak, and Olmert."
  • On the Arab World: "J Street believes that the US should actively promote and facilitate reconciliation between Israel and the Arab world, as well as the establishment of diplomatic relations and relevant security guarantees - in the context of a comprehensive peace agreement." J Street references the Arab Peace Initiative proposed by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabiamarker as a possible framework for a comprehensive Arab-Israel peace.


Structure

J Street PAC logo
J Street and J Street PAC, founded in April 2008, exist as separate legal entities with different political functions:

  • J Street - a nonprofit advocacy group registered as a 501 charitable group. J Street aims to encourage "support strong American leadership to end the Arab-Israeli and Palestinian-Israeli conflicts peacefully and diplomatically." Because of J Street's charitable status, it is precluded by campaign finance regulations from financially supporting political campaigns of candidates seeking federal office.


  • The J Street PAC - a political action committee capable of making direct political campaign donations. Thus, the J Street PAC will provide political and financial support to candidates who are seeking election or reelection and agree with J Street's goals.


Management

J Street's founding Executive Director is Jeremy Ben-Ami, a former domestic policy adviser in the Clinton Administration. Ben-Ami has deep ties to Israel: His grandparents were among the founders of Tel Aviv, his parents were Israelis, his family suffered in the Holocaust, and he has lived in Israel, where he was almost blown up in a Jerusalem terror attack. Ben-Ami has worked for many years with Jewish peace groups, including the Center for Middle East Peace and the Geneva Initiative-North America.

The initial support of J Street came from multi-billionaire George Soros, who for a brief time was associated with the organization. Soros pulled out before the initial launch, so as not to negatively affect the group.

J Street's advisory council consists of former public officials, policy experts, community leaders and academics, including Daniel Levy, a former high-ranking Israeli official who was the lead drafter of the groundbreaking Geneva Initiative, Franklin Fisher and Debra DeLee of Americans for Peace Now, Marcia Freedman of Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, Democratic Middle East foreign policy expert Robert Malley, former Israeli foreign minister Shlomo Ben-Ami, former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Samuel W. Lewis and former US Senator Lincoln Chafee.

In an apparent success for J Street, most recently Obama Administration nominated Hannah Rosenthal, a member of the advisory council of both J Street and J Street PAC, to be the head of the Office To Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism.

Activities

J Street is active in two realms:

Political fund raising

The J Street PAC acts as a traditional political action committee raising funds to support a limited number of candidates for Senate and Congressional races.

For the 2008 Congressional elections, the J Street PAC hoped to raise around $300,000 to funnel into three to five swing districts. Ultimately it raised $600,000 and, according to J Street, 33 of the 41 candidates it backed won their seats.

According to Federal Election Commission filings, dozens of Arab and Muslim Americans and Iranian advocacy organizations donated tens of thousands of dollars to J Street, representing "a small fraction" of the group's fund-raising. Donors included Lebanese-American businessman Richard Abdoo, who is a board member of Amideast and a former board member of the Arab American Institute, and Genevieve Lynch, who is also a member of the National Iranian American Council board.

Capitol Hill lobbying

J Street lobbies for and against Israel-related bills and legislation.

J Street's first-year budget for fiscal 2009 is $1.5 million. This is a modest figure for a PAC, though Gary Kamiya writes that J Street hopes to raise significant money online, following the blueprint of MoveOn and the Barack Obama presidential campaign.

Public response

Israeli-American writer and analyst Gershom Gorenberg wrote in the American Prospect that J Street "might change not only the political map in Washington but the actual map in the Middle East." Noah Pollak at Commentary Magazine predicted that the effort would fall flat and show there are no "great battalions of American Jewish doves languishing in voicelessness."

Ken Wald, a political scientist at University of Floridamarker, predicted the group would be attacked by the "Jewish right." According to BBC News, Wald warned that J Street "will get hammered and accused of being anti-Israel. A lot will have to do with the way they actually frame their arguments."

James Kirchick, writing in the The New Republic, called J Street's labeling of AIPAC as "right wing" "ridiculous"; Kirchik says that AIPAC's former president told him that AIPAC was the first American Jewish organization to support Oslo and supports a two-state solution. Kirchick further asserts that some of J Street's positions, such as advocating negotiations with Hamas, are not popular with most American Jews According to a March 2008 Haaretz-Dialog poll the majority of Israelis do support direct talks with Hamas, although this referred solely to the issue of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Jeremy Ben-Ami responded to Kirchick's charges during a May 26 2008 interview published in Haaretz Magazine. Kirchik also has reacted against J Streets endorsement of the play Seven Jewish Children, which many critics consider antisemitic. "To J Street, the inflammatory message of Seven Jewish Children is precisely what makes it worthy of production," he charges.

Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, called J Street's reaction to the Israeli invasion of Gaza "morally deficient, profoundly out of touch with Jewish sentiment and also appallingly na√Įve." J Street responded stating, "It is hard for us to understand how the leading reform rabbi in North America could call our effort to articulate a nuanced view on these difficult issues "morally deficient." If our views are "naive" and "morally deficient", then so are the views of scores of Israeli journalists, security analysts, distinguished authors, and retired IDF officers who have posed the same questions about the Gaza attack as we have."

In April 2009, the Washington Post called J Street "Washington's leading pro-Israel PAC," citing the group's impressive fund raising efforts in its first year and its record of electoral success, including 33 victories by J Street-supported candidates for Congress.

According to Caroline Glick, deputy managing editor of the Jerusalem Post, J Street is anything but pro-Israel: "Through their actions, J Street and its allies have made clear that their institutional interests are served by weakening Israel. Their mission is to harm Israel's standing in Washington and weaken the influence of the mainstream American Jewish community that supports Israel."

In August 2009, J Street released its fundraising figures for its PAC division. It showed that "at most 3 percent of the organization's thousands of contributors" were Arab and Muslim donors. Lenny Ben-David, a former Israeli diplomat and current lobbyist for AIPAC, criticized J Street for accepting such donations: "It raises questions as to their banner that they're a pro-Israel organization. Why would people who are not known to be pro-Israel give money to this organization?" J Street President Ben-Ami said that such supporters show the broad appeal of J Street's message and its commitment to coexistence: "I think it is a terrific thing for Israel for us to be able to expand the tent of people who are willing to be considered pro-Israel and willing to support Israel through J Street. One of the ways that we're trying to redefine what it means to be pro-Israel is that you actually don't need to be anti-Arab or anti-Palestinian to be pro-Israel."

Shmuel Rosner has questioned whether J Street actually represents U.S. Jewry. Noah Pollak has questioned the veracity of their polling. Barry Rubin has suggested that J Street is an anti-Israel front for Iranian interests, masquerading as a Zionist organization.

The Israeli Embassy stated that Ambassador Michael Oren would not attend J Street's first national conference because J Street supports positions that may "impair Israel's interest".

On October 22, 2009, Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni sent a letter congratulating J Street on its inaugural event. She said she would not be able to attend but that Kadima would be "well-represented" by Meir Sheetrit, Shlomo Molla, and Haim Ramon.

See also



References

Further reading



External links




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