Neil Lewis profiled what he called "a new pro-Israel lobby" in Friday's "U.S. Jews Create New Lobby to Temper Israel Policy." The new lobbying group, J Street, is in fact a gathering of Israeli doves who want to "end the occupation" of Palestinian land by Israel, but Lewis provided no ideological labeling and did his best to make the group sound moderate.
Several prominent American Jews have formed a new pro-Israel lobby as an alternative to traditional organizations that, they assert, often impede progress in the Middle East because of their generally reflexive support of Israel.
Officials of the new group, called J Street, say they believe the best way to bring security and peace to Israel is to help political candidates who support that country but will occasionally question some of its policies like maintaining or expanding settlements in disputed territories.
For many who follow the intense and complex world of lobbying on Middle East issues in Washington, there is little doubt as to the role J Street hopes to play in American politics - upsetting or at least diluting the influence of groups like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or Aipac, the formidable lobby that has long been the dominant voice of American Jewry with regard to United States policy in the Middle East.
"They're trying to be the un-Aipac," said Shmuel Rosner, who follows the issue closely as the chief United States correspondent for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.
The executive director of the new venture, Jeremy Ben-Ami, said in an interview that "a large number of American Jews and their friends have dropped out of the discussion about how to bring peace to Israel and its neighbors because they don't have a home politically." He argued that there was a need for an alternative to the traditional groups who say, "to oppose any Israeli policy is to be anti-Israel."
J Street itself is more blunt about where the group is coming from politically. From its website:
For too long, the only voices politicians and policy makers have heard on American policy toward Israel and the Middle East have been from the far right.
....to save time, imagine roughly the editorial positions of The Nation magazine in the mouths of lobbyists.
J Street places near the top of its list of supporters someone named Avram Burg, who may not ring a bell to many Americans, but who is notorious in Israel. Burg advocates, among other things, the dissolution of Israel as a Jewish state; recommends that Israeli parents secure foreign passports for their children; and compares Israel today to late 1930's Germany. When asked during the call why someone like Burg is affiliated with J Street, the group's proprietors downplayed and misrepresented the man's radicalism. It is difficult to imagine how the J Streeters believe their organization will be taken seriously as a pro-Israel lobby at the same time they advertise the endorsement of a figure like Avram Burg.