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The self-described “pro-Israel, pro-peace” lobbying group J Street has spent the majority of its recent time on Capitol Hill lobbying in favor of pro-Iran and pro-Palestinian measures, according to the liberal group’s lobbying disclosure forms.
J Street’s efforts to rollback sanctions on Iran and advocate for legislation backed by the Palestinian Authority has pro-Israel insiders warning that the group’s actions run counter to its claims of being pro-Israel.
The group spent $100,000 lobbying lawmakers to tone down their rhetoric on Iran and pushed for greater ties with the “Palestinian Diplomatic Mission to the United States,” according to the latest 2012 disclosure forms filed with the House of Representatives.
As the five-year old organization gets ready to kick off its 2013 conference in Washington D.C. on Saturday—an event that will include a who’s who of Israel’s most prominent critics—pro-Israel insiders are warning that J Street is not what it claims to be.
“J Street believes that Israel is the obstacle to peace [and] it wants the president to pressure Israel to meet Palestinian demands,” said Steve Rosen, a former top official at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the nation’s premiere pro-Israel group.
“Because Congress is an obstacle to presidential pressure [on Israel], J-Street wants to neutralize AIPAC's influence, to free the president to impose Palestinian concessions on Israel,” Rosen said. “At root, J-Street is profoundly hostile to the core principle of Zionism, which is the right of the Jewish people to decide their own destiny in a state of their own.”
“Because J Street does not trust the Jewish people of Israel to see things the correct (i.e., J Street) way, it would rather that Israel's destiny be decided by a non-Jew from Chicago,” Rosen said.
The group’s efforts on Capitol Hill appears to run counter to the overarching agenda adopted by mainstream pro-Israel and Jewish groups, which mainly lobby on boosting the U.S.-Israel alliance and tightening economic sanctions on Iran.
J Street lobbied in 2012 on “Senate amendments to National Defense Authorization Act relating to status of Palestinian Diplomatic Mission to the United States”; the “National Defense Authorization Act conference report language relating to the use of force against Iran”; and a “House letter relating to status of Palestinian Diplomatic Mission to the United States,” according to its disclosures.
J Street and the pro-Iran National Iranian American Council (NIAC) launched a full court press in Congress earlier this year in a failed effort to convince lawmakers that Iran is a friendly nation that can be negotiated with.
While Iran and its newly installed president, Hassan Rowhani, have continued to promote violence against America and Israel, J Street and NIAC urged lawmakers and President Obama to stop “engaging in actions that delegitimize the newly elected [Iranian] president and weaken his standing,” according to the congressional letter they lobbied on.
NIAC has been scolded by at least one member of Congress for pushing Iranian “propaganda.” It often finds itself at odds with AIPAC and large swaths of the organized Jewish community.
J Street’s willingness to team up with a group suspected of lobbying for the Iranian regime has many on Capitol Hill questioning J Street’s motives.
“To call yourself a pro-Israel lobby and constantly find yourself on the other side of pro-Israel legislation that passes the House and Senate is not credible,” said one senior congressional aide familiar with the group’s efforts. “They’ve radically perverted the definition of what it means to be pro-Israel.”
“On the single issue that impacts Israel’s security the most—a nuclear-armed Iran—their advocacy efforts and lobbying is virtually non existent,” said the aide. “And when they do speak up or lobby it’s to weaken sanctions on Iran.”
Added a former AIPAC staffer with intimate knowledge of Congress: “J Street's impotency on the Iranian nuclear threat and Israel’s security makes its claim of being a pro-Israel organization nothing more than a false flag operation.”
J Street and NIAC have long had overlapping agendas and tap some of the same donors.
NIAC and J Street also receive money from the progressive anti-nuke group Ploughshares Fund, which has awarded the groups thousands of dollars to lobby against sanctions and a credible military threat on Iran.
Ploughshares enlisted NIAC and J Street to lobby on behalf of controversial Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel during his contested nomination, which was opposed by many pro-Israel organizations.
J Street has routinely lobbied on Palestinian and Iranian issues over the past three years, according to a Free Beacon analysis of its disclosures.
The group’s lobbying efforts on Israel-related issues, such as the final status of Jerusalem, is ambiguous. It could not be determined which side of the issue J Street lobbied on, according to the disclosures.
J Street’s public statements also run counter its claims of being a mainstream pro-Israel group.
J Street adopted six explicitly pro-Israel public stances from January 1, 2013 to September 24, 2013, according to a Free Beacon analysis.
Other statements praised Obama administration efforts to force Israel into concessions for peace and praised the Palestinians for being strong supporters of the peace talks, despite their continued endorsement of terrorism and efforts to delegitimize Israel.
“I look at [J Street’s] actions as a bad joke, but the joke is on the people who support them,” said Morris Amitay, AIPAC’s former executive director. “J Street is an arm of the White House Middle East policy; I don’t see how them can call themselves pro-Israel because they’re pro-Obama, pro-Democrat and pushing what the White House wants.”
Scores of J Street supporters will gather at the Washington Convention Center this weekend when the group launches its annual conference, a four-day powwow that will unite some of the Jewish state’s top critics.
Progressive activists will attend sessions focused on Israeli “settlements” and the Jewish state’s treatment of Palestinians. Others include, “Conquering the Dividers: Racism, Exclusion and Ultranationalism in Israel.”
Attendees will also hear a headline speech from Vice President Joe Biden, whose appearance is being hailed by media observers as confirmation that J Street has achieved mainstream acceptance.
However, insiders say that Biden’s presence hardly constitutes a sea change from a group and administration that has worked hand-in-hand to create “daylight” with Israel.
“When you define the pro-Israel community as a former Palestinian fighter and those who would call Israel racist, you’ve not only misunderstood the very meaning of what it is to be pro-Israel, but you’ve done irreparable harm to American support for Israel,” said one of the senior congressional aides.
This behavior makes J Street “worse than those who simply claim to be anti-Israel,” the source said. “If people really knew what they stood for and paid more attention to their actions, not a single Congressional office would be open to them.”