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POLITICS-US: J Street’s Muslim Funding for Peace

Eli Clifton

WASHINGTON, Aug 14 2009 (IPS) - News reports and right-wing blogs have been repeating reports which claim that Muslims and Arabs are among the donors to the J Street political action committee (PAC) which lobbies American policymakers to work on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and helps raise campaign funds for candidates who share the views of J Street on promoting American leadership in the peace process.

The report that J Street PAC receives a small percentage – J Street’s Executive Director Jeremy Ben-Ami, guessed that three-percent of their contributions were from individuals with Arab or Muslim names – of its funding from Arabs or Muslims has gotten significant attention on right wing publications and blogs such as: American Thinker, The Weekly Standard Blog, and Israel National News.

“Arab and Muslim donors are extremely rare for other organisations that describe themselves as supporters of Israel as J Street does,” wrote the Jerusalem Post’s Hilary Leila Krieger in an article entitled ‘Muslims, Arabs among J Street Donors.’

While the Jerusalem Post took care to present these statistics without crossing the line into making explicit allegations against J Street, far-right pundits quoted in the article and bloggers didn’t feel compelled to hold back suggesting that J Street’s willingness to take money from Arabs and Muslims undermines their pro-Israel credentials.

“This is one more indication that J Street should be looked upon warily and with a great deal of scepticism when it tries to pass itself off as being a supporter of strong American-Israel ties,” writes Ed Lasky on The American Thinker, a conservative daily website.

“Twenty donors had what could be Arab or Muslim last names,” Ben-Ami told IPS. “For all I know their families could have been in this country for two hundred years.”


“They are using this to delegitimise the voice of J Street as that of American Jews. This is impossible for an organisation that gets well over 90-percent of its money from Jewish Americans.”

J Street’s position as a new – it was founded in 2008 – voice for moderate Jews in the United States and a counterbalance to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) – which generally takes positions in line with the right-leaning Israeli Likud party – has not come without some difficulties.

Neoconservatives and other members of the far-right came into direct conflict with J Street in May 2008 when J Street issued a statement calling on Republican presidential candidate John McCain to, “renounce John Hagee once and for all.”

Many Jews took offense with Hagee’s characterisation of Hitler as doing God’s work by helping to bring Jews to Israel, and AIPAC found itself in the difficult position of fighting to keep its pro-Israel credentials while not severing its valuable ties to the Christian-Zionist movement and the Christian Right.

The divide between moderate Jews and neoconservatives – many of whom see the alliance with Christian Zionists such as Hagee as a valuable relationship – has proven to be a fault line for organisations seeking to characterise themselves as pro-Israel.

Supporters of AIPAC continue to express animosity towards J Street and the latest report from the Jerusalem Post seems to only give them more ammunition.

“It seems this mythical group of Jews who were heretofore unable to speak for themselves are either unable or unwilling to support an organisation like J Street all on their own. They need a little help from their Muslim friends,” wrote Michael Goldfarb on the Weekly Standard’s blog.

“J Street focuses far more of its energy on purging the pro-Israel community of people like Hagee than it does on any other single issue. The group spearheaded a campaign last summer to get John McCain to renounce Hagee’s support over statements Hagee had made which were bizarre, but not anti-Israel.”

Members of the far-right are expressing disapproval with J Street PAC’s willingness to take donations from Arabs and Muslims – which they imply undermines the organisation’s commitment to the state of Israel and the majority of American Jews. But, J Street has been quick to point out that the contributions from non-Jews might suggest that they have expanded the demographic of people who are willing to be labelled as “pro-Israel,” and that people who consider themselves pro-Israel don’t have to be anti-Arab or anti-Palestinian.

“I don’t actually see it as an accusation. I see it as a truth. A small percentage of money J Street raises comes from people who are non Jewish,” said Ben- Ami. “I’m thrilled to see there are non-Jews who are pro-Israel who see that Israel’s future depends on making peace with the Palestinians.”

“I wonder what the implications are for any effort to reach a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict if you really believe that anyone whose religion happens to be other than yours can’t share a common agenda.”

 
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