J Street started a year ago as a Jewish lobby for doves. There was some criticism of the group then, and I still hear some today. Most memorably, J Street attacked then-president candidate John McCain for “exploiting the Holocaust” and releasing a survey of American Jewish attitudes.
A year in, The Washington Post reviews J Street’s record and finds that the PAC has dramatically exceeded expectations. An excerpt:
In a break with common practice among U.S. Jewish groups, J Street has not been shy about aggressively criticizing Israeli leaders. This month, the group launched an unusual YouTube video accusing new Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman of running a “racist and incendiary” election campaign and alleging that many U.S. Jewish leaders are “whitewashing what Lieberman stands for.”
David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, told the Jewish Week newspaper that such criticism “doesn’t help Israel.”
J Street also came under fire for loudly criticizing Israel’s recent military incursion against the Hamas militant group in the Gaza Strip. “While there is nothing ‘right’ in raining rockets on Israeli families or dispatching suicide bombers, there is nothing ‘right’ in punishing a million and a half already-suffering Gazans for the actions of the extremists among them,” J Street wrote in a message to its members.
Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, called J Street’s position on the Gaza conflict “morally deficient, profoundly out of touch with Jewish sentiment and also appallingly naïve.”
One of J Street’s biggest targets is Washington’s preeminent pro-Israel lobbying group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which has more than 100,000 members and spent $2.5 million on lobbying last year. J Street, by contrast, has spent little on lobbying so far; AIPAC does not directly contribute to candidates as J Street does.
AIPAC declined to comment on J Street or its aims. But Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the new group has a long way to go before it can rival AIPAC, which has often taken hawkish positions on Israeli defense issues.
“AIPAC has found a way over a half-century to tremendously energize people about their mission,” Alterman said. “Can J Street build a donor base who believe that it is something that is vital in the way that AIPAC does? I don’t know if that’s possible.”
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