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Washington Times Smears J Street Over Soros Gifts

DAVOS/SWITZERLAND, 27JAN10 - George Soros

George Soros: Israel lobby's Wicked Witch of the East

Before I begin this post let me make a few disclosures.  I once thought very highly of J Street.  I don’t anymore.  I think it’s a useful organization, but little more than that.  At one time, I believed it would be an independent progressive voice for a just Jewish approach to the Israeli-Arab conflict.  Instead, it has become a Jewish rooting section for the Obama presidency and its Middle East agenda or as Jeremy Ben Ami has proudly put it: “Obama’s blocking back.”

At least, that’s what its public statements reveal.  I suspect that its leadership and donors may actually have a more genuinely progressive agenda which they are too cautious to display.  But again, this isn’t the face they show the public so there’s little way to judge whether or not this is so.  All this to say that I have no special axe to grind one way or the other in what I’m about to write.

eli lake

Eli Lake: caught a big fish this time (Washington Time)

The Moonie Washington Times, and its pro-Israel neocon correspondent Eli Lake, have mounted a full frontal assault on J Street and its director Jeremy Ben Ami.  The charges?  J Street, after telling the world at its founding that George Soros would not be a leader or donor, actually accepted $750,000 from him over three years.  Apparently, right-wing Jews like Eli Lake think George Soros is a cross between Beelzebub and the Wicked Witch of the East.  But the last I checked he was a U.S. citizen entitled to fund political groups with which he feels compatible, just as John Hagee is.  Why anyone in their right mind would be scandalized that Soros has funded J Street is beyond me.  And Lake has stirred up a tempest in a teapot.

Besides this, Lake has made egregious errors in his reporting.  He claims that Soros’ gift was “secret” and that the group “repeatedly denied” it.  His proof?  This statement at the J Street website:

“George 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.”

The worst that can be said about this is that it is misleading.  But only the most partisan and uncharitable reading would claim this is a deliberate attempt to conceal Soros’ gifts.  Further, J Street reported the gifts to the IRS, as it was legally required to do, which is how Lake discovered it.  In this day and age, it’s almost impossible to conceal such donors and J Street did not do so from the IRS.

Lake reported the gift was “one-third” of J Street’s overall financial support for the 2008-2009 financial year, when according to figures from J Street published in The Atlantic, it was actually around 20% if you count it towards 2008 around 5% if you count it toward 2009.  Even the 20% number is taken out of context because it only covers a single year of the group’s three-year existence, and not even its most recent one.

Yes, Ben-Ami made a bonehead decision in not publicly revealing that Soros supported J Street (though since 501 c 4 donors are usually not publicly divulged, he may not have had Soros’ permission to reveal his status).  The best approach to these potential controversies is to be transparent to a fault.  If you’re not, you’ll be made to pay.  And Jeremy, telling a group of Florida donors that Soros was a donor at an off the record fundraising event doesn’t constitute full public disclosure.

On a personal note, I want to reveal my own person connection to one of J Street’s major donors, Bill Benter.  Bill is not a mystery to supporters of Israeli-Arab peace though he appears to be a sinister force (see also, More Donations to Radical, Anti-Israel Causes) for much of the right-wing pro-Israel blogosphere that has taken to chanting his name at their covens.  The Wall Street Journal has him pegged as one of the world’s most successful sports bettors, as if this is a grave offense against decency.  They seem to forget that Shelly Adelson and Irving Moskowitz have each raked in more cash from betting than Bill Benter ever lost from their respective gambling empires.  And Bill Benter doesn’t prey on poor addicted saps willing to part with their life savings and ruin the lives of their families for good measure–all for the sake of the big score.  It should be mentioned that Bill has earned his fortune honestly as the CEO of a medical transcription company.

I have met Bill, sat next to him during last year’s J Street conference, and frankly without good souls like him the peace movement would be a shadow of what it is.

Bill solicited a large J Street gift ($800,000) from a Hong Kong resident of whom none of the pro-Israel right have ever heard.  She too is a ‘sinister figure’ liable to have roots in Arab terror if you believe the whisperings of some journalists who’ve reported on this.  It appears that if you are from Hong Kong and wish to support a friend’s philanthropic activities around Israeli-Palestinian peace, you do so on pain of being likened to Suha Arafat.  Again, there is nothing illegal about a Hong Kong resident contributing to J Street.

Here is what Lake writes:

President Obama and the White House have expressed concerns about untraced foreign influence on the U.S. political system through donations to tax-exempt “501(c)(4)” nonprofit organizations in recent months.

First, this gift is NOT untraced since it was fully reported to the IRS.  Second, if there is something wrong with foreign influence on 501 c 4s, then perhaps pro-Israel groups shouldn’t be accepting any gifts from Israeli citizens.  Do Aipac and the RJC wish to claim that such groups with which their donors are affiliated do not do so?  Perhaps they should start looking through their own donor lists to make sure THEY don’t have Hong Kong donors.

Lake further claims that groups and candidates that Soros supports have distanced themselves from him.  The proof?  An assistant to an assistant press spokesperson for the Obama presidential campaign said that in 2008 Obama didn’t agree with an unspecified Soros criticism of Israel, saying “we agree to disagree.”  Sounds like they’re rats fleeing a sinking ship, doesn’t it?

The unstated implication of all this is that J Street should distance itself too if it knows what’s good for it.  Nowhere does Lake specify what specific views of Soros should make him anathema for a group like J Street other than he has made “sharp criticism of certain Israeli policies.”  Well, that means that J Street should return my money too because I’ve done the same.  How many of its 10,000 donors too have done the same thing? Perhaps J Street should return all their money as well.

Lake further reported that J Street “facilitated meetings” and “was associated with” Judge Richard Goldstone’s visit to Washington to promote his report on Operation Cast Lead.  Ben-Ami responds that J Street employees called the staff of “two or three” Congress members asking if their boss would be interested in meeting Goldstone.  I’d call that something short of “facilitating meetings.”  But again, if I were Ben-Ami, I wouldn’t shy away from this.  Why not help Goldstone get a hearing on the Hill?  What’s wrong with this?  Is there some reason why Richard Goldstone should be in herem?  Does he have political leprosy?

Lake claims the Goldstone Report accused “the Jewish state of systematic war crimes.”  It did not.  It said that there was enough evidence that such crimes may have been committed that it urged Israel and Hamas to investigate their respective acts leading up to and during the war.  Here is further mischaracterization of the reception of the report by Jews and Israelis:

The Goldstone Report is widely viewed as slanderous toward the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) among the American Jewish community and in Israel.

This is not true.  The vast majority of the American Jewish community doesn’t know a thing about the report.  The majority of wealthy conservative pro-Israel American Jewish leaders consider it slanderous toward the IDF.  But that is different from what Lake reported.  He claims “at least” 1,000 Gazans were killed during Cast Lead, when the true number is 1,400.

Lake claims that Morton Halperin, a “senior officer” of J Street, played a key role in organizing Goldstone’s Washington visit.  What Lake neglects to mention that Halperin is not employed by J Street and did not do so in his capacity as a J Street director.  He did this in his capacity as a senior political strategist who works for George Soros.

It’s also interesting that instead of being an American like Lake or me, Soros is the “Hungarian-born billionaire.”  Interesting how Lake can resort to zenophobia when it suits his purposes.  Lake reminds me of the Maariv smearmeister, Ben Caspit, who worked together with Im Tirzu to drag Naomi Hazan through the gutter for NIF’s alleged collaboration with Judge Goldstone against Israel.  In fact, Jeremy better watch out–the Washington Times is liable to feature a full page ad with him sporting a horn as Im Tirzu did to Hazan in every major Israeli paper.  Maybe Lake can provide the copy and Aipac or the RJC can pay for it.

Lake rests a good deal of his case on an interview with Colette Avital, a former Labor MK and J Street’s Israel liaison, who he describes as having resigned her positions with the group.  When Avital, in her public response, claimed not to have resigned, Lake fried her by posting the audio recording of her interview (warning: audio quality is atrocious) in which she explicitly confirms she is no longer affiliated with the group.

Frankly, this is again the problem with attempting to be a liberal Zionist organization having liberal Zionist allies who are constrained by ideological blinders and cannot name reality for what it is.  When you have to rely on “luminaries” like Avital to give you juice you are also burdened by whatever limitations they bring.  And Avital appears to have brought plenty, namely that she doesn’t understand that you can’t say one thing in an interview and then deny it later.

I’d venture to say that Lake didn’t tell her he was taping the interview, which probably means he broke the law depending on what jurisdiction he lives in.  If she knew she was being taped, then she’s stupider than even I thought.

All this goes to my main problem with J Street: they’re being too smart by half in trying to hide their true progressive views under a bushel.  If you want to be a Democratic version of Aipac as J Street has been over the past year, then do so and don’t take money from Soros or aid Goldstone.  Make Colette Avital happy, play in the sandbox with the moribund Labor Party, etc.  But if you want to be a truly independent progressive Jewish group why attempt to hide from anyone what you’ve done in taking Soros’ money or helping Goldstone?  Why make common cause with an unreliable figure like Avital?

Personally, I’d rather be saddled with defending to the neocon press taking George Soros’ money, than having to explain why I was too afraid to tell the world I was taking it.  That is why Jeremy Ben Ami is now on the defensive when he should be on the offensive.

All of this comes because J Street is successful at what it does.  It offers a liberal alternative to Aipac.  That means there are powerful forces running all the way from the Israeli embassy to Aipac to Republican Party offices that want to cut it down to size.  This is a mere blip on the screen and will have no long-term impact on J Street.  Of course, I wish it would embolden Ben Ami to become more independent and forthright when it comes to the issues.  But that probably aint’ gonna happen.

Just as laughable as Lake though, is the breathless reporting (J Street Keeps Accumulating Scandals) of Aipac’s favorite Israeli media stenographer, Natasha Mozgovaya, who’s written two “exposes” recounting Ben-Ami’s less than candor.  Apparently, the Israeli embassy and Republican neocons have done a lot of heavy breathing and persuaded her that this is a killer story.  Her writing is so partisan in supposed news articles that it makes Ethan Bronner look like Lenny Brenner:

For some, Soros’ name might be a sufficient reason to cut ties with J Street because of his confrontation with AIPAC and his sharp criticism of Israeli policies. But J Street’s “less than clear” explanation regarding the issue is the reason even the organization’s most stringent supporters are raising their eyebrows.

Of course, she doesn’t manage to name a single “stringent supporter” who has raised their eyebrows over this non-story.  Why should she?  Should she be a journalist and actually dig up sources and do real research when she can just as easily call her pals Eli Lake and Ben Birnbaum at the Washington Times who can regurgitate the talking points for her?

I raise a challenge to every honest journalist who’s reported this story as if they’re uncovering Moses’ revelation of the Ten Commandments at Sinai.  Go find the same IRS documents and tell us the major funding sources for Aipac and the Republican Jewish Coalition, the two groups who appear to be crowing loudest about this revelation.  And while you’re at it why aren’t you screaming bloody murder about John Hagee’s tens of millions supporting settlements and Irving Moskowitz’s tens of millions supporting the Judaization of East Jerusalem, all with tax-deductible U.S. dollars.  And if you don’t do this then you’re nothing but partisan hacks feeding from the Israel lobby trough.

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{ 15 comments… add one }

  • David October 3, 2010, 2:59 AM

    Last week the Forward and Ron Kampeas from the JTA ran similar articles attacking J Street. I challenged both to do similar exposes on AIPAC’s funding. Let’s see if these alleged “journalists” are prepared to do the required research or simply play their parts as mainstream hasbarists.

    • Richard Silverstein October 3, 2010, 7:48 PM

      I just wrote to the Forward’s editor & Kampeas directly daring ‘em to do so. We’ll see if they have the guts to go after the Republican pro Israel right. But what I want to know is how Lake got the confidential IRS filings of J St. Naughty naughty. Fr. a Congressional staffer? Disaffected J St. staffer? IRS official?

  • richard01 October 3, 2010, 3:04 AM

    Frankly, the very minor political issues between American Jewish political groups are very uninteresting. J Street or AIPAC makes no real difference. If J Steet backed Richard Goldstone, then so they bloody should have.
    Neither organisation has any interest whatsoever in helping the cause of Palestinian justice, which is what matters in this instance.

    • Richard Silverstein October 3, 2010, 7:51 PM

      Neither organisation has any interest whatsoever in helping the cause of Palestinian justice

      No, I don’t think they do nor should they. Should Al-Awda or CAIR or any other Palestinian or Arab group “help the cause of Israeli justice?” No. Nor should J St. help Palestinian justice. But it SHOULD help the cause of Israel which, if it did, would help Palestine as well. But it doesn’t help the cause of Israel so much as help the cause of Obama which are 2 diff. things.

  • Israeli American October 3, 2010, 6:20 AM

    Obviously the traction J Street’s getting is really threatening the self-appointed Moses of the Israeli hard right. They’re gonna break the Luchos if J Street doesn’t stop dancing around the Golden Calf of making Israel into a Normal Country with Normal Policies. Don’t they know that Israel operates outside the rules that all other countries have to follow??

    J Street should push ahead full speed. It’s AIPAC that is the false Messiah.

    The problem is that AIPAC seems to have Obama’s ear right now. Obama will only stop listening to them when he is convinced that they are not the primary representative group for the Jewish community. Which is fine. because they are already slipping very fast.

    • Israeli Israeli October 4, 2010, 5:10 AM

      Israeli American –

      When speaking of AIPAC – how are they “Slipping very fast?”

      Recent Iranian legislation, lobbied heavily by AIPAC passed the Senate 99-0 and in the house they had over 400 of the 435 potential votes.

      Seems like they are working very well with both Dems and Repubs. Is there any other organization that has this much success with BOTH sides of the aisle? Certainly not J Street or ZOA…….I can not think of one.

      One of my American friends told me over the weekend that AIPAC is having a record year in fundraising. If they are slipping fast – how can AIPAC bring in such a large number of annual donors, especially during an economic down-turn?

      About 5 years ago – I tried to make a donation to AIPAC, but was told “Thank you – but No Thank You” – simply because they stated to me – “We are an American organization and hence do not accept donations from non-American citizens.” It was a very polite letter – but clearly stated that AIPAC only accepts donations from Americans.

      Though I’m not sure, something tells me that anyone that takes a look, might find out that AIPAC does practice what it preaches and does not accept money from outside the U.S.

      A healthy debate is always nice and I have no problem with these comments – BUT – make sure you have your FACTS CORRECT and don’t make up facts or bend the truth!

      I would ask everyone to be careful and make sure you have your facts correct before submitting a false statement!

      Regardless of who you support, everyone should know that Israel is under constant attack – both from terrorists and the likes of the World public opinion. Just look at the UN – Israel is a permanent agenda item at the security council.

      I just read a story on the front page of the New York Times about 4 days of rapes in The Congo – under the eyes of UN Troops! Where is the world’s outrage at this? Over 200 women in 4 days? If ONE Israeli Soldier was falsey accused of raping ONE women – there would be such an outcry from the World!

      As an Israeli – I count on the United States support for Israel. Now is NOT the time to be divided – please stay united and make sure Israel always has the U.S. support!

      Israel has to make very difficult decision – EVERYDAY – about our security and the safety of our people. These are not easy choices – but they are necessary when a majority of the world wants to see you killed and our country turned over to Terrorists.

      If the other Arab countries care so much about our Palestinian neighbors, then why don’t they do something to help. It’s one thing to pledge money to the PA, but they never pay their pledges – Saudi Arabi is a classic example of this.

      Let’s not forget one important piece of information – In 1948, it was the U.N. that voted on and created TWO STATES, Israel and Palestine. It was the PLO that did not accept this offer. We have turned our country into a land of modern science, creating new medicine, technologies, agriculture, etc. – things that the entire world has benefited from – because of Israel’s desire to be a part of the world.

      What have the PLO & PA done? NOTHING! They have been kicked out of Eygpt and Jordan and NO ONE else wants these people! Let’s not forget – Gaza was once part of Eygpt and when Israel offered to give it back during the Camp David Peace Accords – it was Eygpt that said “NO”

      Why are these people the problem of Israel? Why are they not part of the rest of the Arab world and taken care of by the other 22 Arab countries that surround Israel. Or the other 37 Muslin countries around the world? Its simple, if you ask an Israeli – the PA, PLO, Hamas, Hizballah and almost all other 22 Arab countries want one thing and one thing only – NO MORE ISRAEL!

      That is there goal. What – as Americans – are you going to do to make sure Israel is safe? What are you going to do to prevent another Holocaust? What are you going to do, to make sure that your children and grandchildren have an Israel to visit in the future?

      These are the questions you need to ask yourself! Stop fighting amongest yourself and support The State of Israel.

      THANK YOU!!

      • Richard Silverstein October 4, 2010, 11:35 AM

        they are working very well with both Dems and Repubs.

        Aipac doesn’t “work well” with Congress. It intimidates them. Republicans work willingly with them. Some Democrats as well. But Aipac is a heavily right-leaning pro Republican entity. Democrats go along for the ride out of political expediency. The only ones who buck Aipac are a few hearty Democratic souls in Congress.

        Certainly not J Street

        J St. would love to work w. Republicans & indeed has supported at least one Republican candidate I know of. So you are wrong in that. It’s not J St.’s fault if Republicans by & large shun it like the plague.

        AIPAC does practice what it preaches and does not accept money from outside the U.S.

        I’m not talking about Aipac donations, I’m talking about donations to pro Israel 501c4s which would be nominally independent groups set up by major Aipac donors. I want to know what their donor lists look like. I doubt they make as fine a distinction.

        everyone should know that Israel is under constant attack – both from terrorists and the likes of the World public opinion.

        Blah, blah, blah…Tell us something we hadn’t already heard fr the Hasbara Institute of Shamless Pro-Israelism.

        I just read a story on the front page of the New York Times about 4 days of rapes in The Congo

        OFF TOPIC. Follow the comment rules & READ THEM. Do not publish another comment here before doing so. And stay ON TOPIC. And take my warnings very seriously.

        In 1948, it was the U.N. that voted on and created TWO STATES, Israel and Palestine. It was the PLO that did not accept this offer.

        Say what? Did you learn this in the Israeli school system? The PLO was founded in 1964. How could it refuse an UN decision made in 1948?? This too is OFF TOPIC. Stay on the topic of my post & do not wander. If you continue doing so, you will face moderation.

        Why are these people the problem of Israel?

        Because you exiled them in the Nakba and you conquered them in 1967 and because you continue stealing their land. It’s YOUR problem and will continue to afflict you as the 10 Plagues did the Egyptians until you do justice. And if you don’t, you’ll have the equivalent of the last Plague in which you lose yr first born child & perhaps your entire country someday. And it will be no one’s fault but yr own.

        Gaza was once part of Eygpt and when Israel offered to give it back during the Camp David Peace Accords

        Another historical fallacy. Never happened. Talk about getting yr facts straight!!! I don’t cotton well to commenters who make up history. So it’s you who will have to learn to play by the rules here. If you make up “facts” that’s another comment violation.

        Thanks for entertaining us & reminding that “De-Nile” is not just a river in Egypt, but one that runs right through the soul of Israel.

  • dickerson3870 October 3, 2010, 7:05 AM

    Eli Lake and The Moonie Times are the “worst of the worst” (to borrow a phrase from “Pricky Dick” Cheney). I would love to see them go out of business, but I suspect they will manage to find a new ‘sugar daddy’ to come to their rescue.

    • Richard Silverstein October 3, 2010, 8:01 PM

      Lake got picked up by Moonie Times when the N.Y. Sun went under. I wonder when the Wash. Times goes under who’ll pick him up. Prob. the Weekly Standard if he’s lucky. He & Kristol were made for ea. other.

  • bar_kochba132 October 3, 2010, 8:19 AM

    Of course nothing J-Street did is illegal. But, as you are always pointing out, progressives are much more moral people than “neo-cons” or “conservatives” or Republicans or “pro-Israel” people. Thus, it is logical for people to have higher expectations from them.

    • Richard Silverstein October 6, 2010, 10:39 PM

      as you are always pointing out

      I have never said that progressives are more moral than neo-cons. They SHOULD be more moral & often are, but they aren’t always…because they’re human. Besides, I never makes such comparative arguments on moral terms (not that there isn’t a moral component to my own analysis). I’d much rather make the argument that neocon policies simply don’t work on a pragmatic, functional level which is self-evident.

  • Crimson Ghost October 3, 2010, 8:27 AM

    Too bad that most of the Jewish billionaires do not seem to share the views of George Soros. If they did AIPAC and its war mongering agenda could not long survive.

  • medawar October 3, 2010, 9:30 AM

    I think the trouble is that they know that Mr Soros isn’t going to have them run over or gunned down in the street, whereas with some of those who support AIPAC and its Canadian equivalent, you just can’t bet on this.

  • uncle joe mccarthy October 3, 2010, 1:44 PM

    neither hagee nor moskowitz have ever hidden their donations, andboth have had their involvement in settlement activity reported on in the press

    so where would the story be?

    until this story broke, nobody knew that soros was donating to j street…so there is a story there.

    • Richard Silverstein October 6, 2010, 10:32 PM

      Not true, Lenny Ben David knew & posted in a comment thread at JPost. If Ben David pitched a story on this or a JPost editor bothered to read their own comment threads, they would’ve had the story before Lake did. Plus, Jeremy had acknowledged Soros’ gift at a Florida J St. event. Soros himself said he hasn’t concealed the gift fr. anyone.

      Hagee & Moskowitz are yr typical non sequiturs. I want to know the major donors to Aipac & RJC affiliated 501c4s–I want those suckers outed too.

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