AJC criticizes "inappropriate" Knesset hearings on J Street
03/24/2011 - 11:43
James Besser

J Street still makes some major Jewish leaders nervous, but that doesn't mean they like the idea of Israeli politicians mucking around in the internal affairs of the a diverse American Jewish community.

Today the American Jewish Committee criticized this week's Knesset hearings into whether J Street is really the pro-Israel, pro-peace group it claims to be.

“In holding hearings on whether a voluntary American Jewish organization is indeed a pro-Israel lobby, the Knesset committee has interfered in an entirely inappropriate way in the internal affairs of the American Jewish community,” said Ed Rettig, director of AJC’s Jerusalem Office, in remarks originally intended for the hearing.

But Rettig's testimony was scrubbed; could it be because anti-J Street Knesset members knew what he was going to say?

“We are a voluntary community in a democratic country and we settle our differences, of which there are many, in the only proper forum -- the arena of open debate within the Jewish community,” he went on. “Israeli parliamentary committees have no proper role in such a discussion.”

In my story this week, the ADL's Abe Foxman said the hearings were little more than a “simple political maneuver.”

I've talked to several other Jewish leaders who oppose many of J Street's positions and actions – but who said the Knesset investigation was meant to have a chilling impact on the debate over key Middle East peace issues within the American Jewish community.

“It's the big tent thing all over again,” said one prominent Jewish activist who asked not to be identified. “This hearing stands in clear opposition to what we've always advocated – that U.S.-Israel relations are best protected by having the broadest possible pro-Israel movement in this country. There are factions in the Knesset that just don't get that.”

As I noted, even some staunch, highly public J Street opponents declined to defend the Knesset hearings in my story.

Will the fact J Street has been singled out by Israel's parliament for scrutiny of its pro-Israel credentials have an impact on the group's standing in Congress? In my story, several analysts said they thought it might.

But with prominent centrist groups like the AJC and the ADL calling the hearings inappropriate, I'm wondering if the impact will be minimal.

And I've talked to some seasoned analysts of Jewish politics who believe the hyperbolic excesses employed by some J Street opponents and the effort to drum it out of the world of pro-Israel activism  will ultimately backfire and actually boost the group's standing with a Jewish electorate that remains fairly liberal on Middle East matters and resistant to litmus-test pro-Israel politics..


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^ Hyperbolic Excesses ^

I support Israel and continue to hope for peace between Israelis and Palestinians under a negotiated two state solution. With more than 200,000 members, J Street is the leading organization in the US dedicated to achieving this goal. The Israeli Knesset through its investigation of J Street will confirm the truth, namely, that J Stree is both pro Israel and pro Peace. This finding will help J Street in promoting its message of peace.

As long as Israeli politicians want the statement "Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East" to be true they must understand that they have no right at all to discriminate against those Jews who disagree with the policies of the present Israeli Administration. Nobody owns the "pro-Israel" label. And J Street does not lie when it says that it is a "pro-Israel Zionist organization" because this is exactly what we are.

The director of the AJC said this, 'In holding hearings on whether a voluntary American Jewish organization is indeed a pro-Israel lobby, the Knesset committee has interfered in an entirely inappropriate way in the internal affairs of the American Jewish community...'.

I'm trying to understand Mr. Rettig's view. It is OK for J Street to lobby the US government to withhold the veto of a UN resolution that Israel wanted vetoed. But it is not OK and 'entirely inappropriate' for the Israeli government to ask 'Who are these guys?' in the US that work against our interests. My opinion is that the director of the AJC in Jerusalem should tolerate in the state of Israel, the same behavior that he accepts for J Street.

I applaud the Knesset for probing into J Street's agenda. If the investigation comes up with a blank -- which I strongly doubt -- fine. If J Street and its financier George Soros have an underlying mission of undermining Israel, then those favorable or neutral regarding J Street apparently need that to be documented.

As usual, the American Jewish Committee jumped out to defend political correctness. The AJC missed the fact that J Street is hardly an internal U.S. matter, as it seeks to influence U.S. policy and American attitudes towards Israel, and makes broad, negative characterizations of that democracy.