J Street in a tough spot over Soros funding revelations
09/25/2010 - 19:45
James Besser

You gotta wonder why people in politics lie when the things they're lying about will inevitably come to light.

On Friday the Washington Times revealed and the group confirmed that J Street, the two-year-old pro-peace process group, has benefited to the tune of $245,000 in 2008 from billionaire financier George Soros and $500,000 since then – even as the group was vehemently denying claims from its angry detractors that it was connected to Soros.

I was one of the many journalists who asked the question – and received in return something significantly less than the truth. Okay, it was a lie.

Why this is stupid: there's no way this information wasn't going to come out.

There's no way this revelation, coming after two years of denials, will not be seen as confirmation in the minds of many that J Street is what its detractors say – a group that is something less than pro-Israel.  The critics, it turns out, were right about Soros; isn't that going to fan suspicion they were right about other things, as well?

There's no way this isn't going to make the politicians supported by J Street and those who may be considering accepting its endorsement incredibly nervous. Instead of  providing protection for the politicians they supported, J Street essentially hung them out to dry - not by accepting Soros money, but by lying about their connection to the controversial philanthropist.

And there's no way this doesn't sow mistrust among commentators and reporters who write and speak about J Street, and who were repeatedly misled by its officials. J Street sought to create a climate of trust with a press corps that was being spun heavily by its opponents; this news undoes a lot of that effort.

I don't happen to think Soros is the devil incarnate; his philanthropy has done a huge amount of good in the world. He has become a favorite whipping boy of the far right, and a lot of that has seeped into the general political culture.

I don't think he's anti-Israel, either – but there's little question his views on Israel are outside the mainstream that J Street claims to represent.

JTA's Ron Kampeas wrote that J Street founder and president Jeremy Ben-Ami and the J Street board “kept contributions secret as a matter of policy, but that it was also his understanding that Soros continued to prefer to keep his funding off the record.”

Bad move, guys. When you're under siege, you don't give your adversaries the ammunition they need to breach your walls. That, it seems to me, is exactly what J Street did here – not by accepting Soros' money, but by repeatedly lying about it. Its opponents must be exulting.


view counter

Add comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.

Comment Guidelines

The Jewish Week feels comments create a valuable conversation and wants to feature your thoughts on our website. To make everyone feel welcome, we won't publish comments that are profane, irrelevant, promotional or make personal attacks.


I was writing not about the morality of J Street's lie but about the political impact. In a similar vein, I have written about AIPAC many times over the years, but focused on the political aspects, not the ethical. As they say, that's not my department.
Mr. Besser: I don't detect any hint of resentment on your part at having been the victim of J Street's "lie," as you chose to word it. But the focus of your discontent seems to be the fact that an organization for which you are sympathetic pulled a boneheaded move. You seem to be saying that lying in this case was wrong because they were bound to get caught. If circumstances were different — if they could somehow guarantee that they'd never be caught — would that make the lie okay? Does it all come down to strategy, or is there a moral element to their behavior? I do admit that there are times when morality requires a lie. When my mother-in-law was found outside the Lodz ghetto after curfew, she falsely told a German soldier that she wasn't Jewish. I don't know anyone who would find fault with that lie. Do you think the goals of J Street make this a moral lie? (Put another way, do the ends justify the means?) Would you have been so understanding if AIPAC had been lying to you? Might you have framed an AIPAC lie in moral terms, suggesting that such immoral behavior was to be expected of right-wingers like AIPAC? (The question is neither rhetorical nor accusatory; I don't presume to know what you think, and maybe you'd treat AIPAC no differently under the same circumstances.) One last thought: Allow me to suggest that if your friends are lying to you, then perhaps they're not really your friends? (I don't see any way to contact you directly, Mr. Besser. But I hope you'll find this comment thoughtful, and I do hope you'll post a reply.)
NewsBusters: Journos Slam Liberal 'Pro-Israel' Group for Lying About Soros Money http://newsbusters.org/blogs/alana-goodman/2010/09/27/journos-slam-liberal-pro-israel-group-lying-about-soros-money
No, Steve, the "real story" is not who released these documents. It is the fact that J Street lied about its backers and now they're trying to spin the fact that they lied. It seems libs only care about who leaked when the revelations put their own agenda into question. And just as J Street (by their own admission) is serving as Obama's protective back as he pressures Israel, some folks are now trying to protect J Street. The suggestion that the timing is "funny" is beyond ironic. It's not just that direct talks started weeks ago. It's the fact that liberal "rights" groups in Israel embargoed a story about tax exempt groups in the US funding projects in the territories until the very day Netanyahu was meeting with Obama - clearly to embarrass the former. If J Street is embarrassed to have people know they're taking Soros money they shouldn't take Soros money. As we learned from Watergate, it's often the cover up, not the crime, that gets people in real trouble.
Not to mention the violation of privacy by the confidential release of confidential IRS information.
Real story here is who released these confidential financial documents and why ? J-Street has built up many enemies on the right with connections, this release is proof of their power. The timing of the story seems funny. Obama launches his bold new push for peace with J-Street as a prominent supporter. Right as that very process starts a revelation which seems masterfully executed to bedazzle J-Street & confuse it's membership at the very moment the process begins. Leaking the SOROS funding story during this period seems intended to leave J-Street and it's supporters spending the next few months chasing it's own tail attempting to protecting it's image rather then spending this crucial period focusing on supporting the push for peace. The timing suggest this is not solely about destroying J-Street but also about knocking out a prominent supporter of the president's peace agenda during the first rounds thereby harming it's prospects. This story by the right leaning Washington Times is either evil or simply smells of it. I agree J-Street was wrong about not being more forthcoming. They flubbed this one up and I hope they will be more transparent with the press in the future. None of this takes away from the good that they do and or sincerity of their many members. There are forces out there who want peace to fail (whether they openly acknowledge that or not). I know one thing for sure , J-Street is not among them
Steve asks, "who released these confidential financial documents and why ?" and blames "enemies on the right." Unfortunately, Steve, J Street blames the IRS. The J Street website clearly states: 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. Of course the IRS is part of the executive branch of government. So if you want to blame someone, Steve, blame the Obama administration. It was their IRS, and it happened on their watch. I don't know that it was deliberate, but I won't argue with you if you want to blame Obama. As for the timing of thse story, which you find so suspicious: As you yourself noted, "J-Street was wrong about not being more forthcoming." If a partisan organization is foolish enough to supply ammunition to their enemies, they should expect the enemies to use that ammunition where and when it will do the most harm. Wouldn't you expect J Street to do the same if the scandal involved AIPAC?
While accusing J-Street of lying, there is nothing in this article showing the actual question asked and the answer given. This is at best, uninformatrive. The funding issue is a red herring. Have you explored the funding of right-wing groups? I strongly suport a free, Jewish, safe, independent, secure Isarel. Doing this does not require that I support every move by whoever happens to lead the government of Israel at the time. I also support J-Street. It is time for more conservative voices to consider that many of us disagree about how to provide for the safety abd well-being of Israel - not whether to do so. I strongly believe that Israel will only be secure when a way is found to make peace with her neighbors. We do not have to like or agree with our neighbors. We do have make peace with the.
The only surprising thing about this story is that there were people who ever believed that J Street was anything other than a Soros-sponsored front group. It's more than surprising, really; it's astonishing that anyone could be so naive, and also depressing, that so many of these naifs seem to be the ones charged with reporting on the matter.