Secretary of State Antony Blinken is set to headline a conference held by one of the foremost anti-Israel groups in the country, a move that is being interpreted as a shot at Israel's newly elected government led by incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Blinken on Wednesday announced that he will serve as the headline speaker at the annual conference for J Street, which as recently as last month trashed Netanyahu, accusing the incoming prime minister of "building and bulldozing [his] way to permanent, undemocratic control of the West Bank." The group also advocates conditioning U.S. aid to Israel, routinely attacks the Jewish state for defending itself against Palestinian terrorism, and employs notoriously terrible pumpkin carvers. It is funded by liberal anti-Israel billionaire George Soros, though the organization initially tried to hide this fact, as well as by far-left groups such as the Ploughshares Fund, one of the chief proponents of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.
The conference kicks off this weekend, with Blinken set to address the confab on Sunday, alongside former Bernie Sanders adviser and longtime Israel critic Matt Duss, Daily Beast writer Wajahat Ali, a cadre of pro-Palestinian activists, and several Democratic members of Congress, including Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D., Md.) and senator-elect Peter Welch (D., Vt.).
Blinken's decision to attend J Street's headline event is eliciting concerns at Foggy Bottom and sparking outrage among friends of the Jewish state already aggrieved at the Biden administration's decision last month to launch an unprecedented FBI investigation into the death in Israel of a Palestinian-American journalist. Israel determined that the journalist was unintentionally shot by its security forces during a standoff with Palestinian terrorists.
Multiple sources, both within and outside the State Department, who spoke to the Washington Free Beacon said Blinken's decision to attend J Street's conference is part of an effort by the Biden administration to undermine the new Netanyahu government and distance itself from the incoming prime minister's conservative coalition.
"It's repugnant that while Israelis are being repeatedly targeted by terrorists, and the [Department of Justice] launches an unwarranted and politicized investigation of our ally, the secretary of state thinks it's a good idea to elevate an organization that spends its time demanding aid to Israel be conditioned and criticizing the Jewish state for defending herself," Sandra Parker, the chairwoman of the CUFI Action Fund, told the Free Beacon in a statement.
A State Department spokesman told the Free Beacon that Blinken’s engagement with anti-Israel groups like J Street is an "important part" of the agency’s mission.
"It is routine for the secretary of state to engage with different civil society groups representing a broad array of foreign policy interests, this is an important part of the State Department’s domestic outreach," the spokesman said.
While Blinken is not the first secretary of state to address a J Street conference—then-secretary John Kerry and then-vice president Joe Biden both spoke in 2016—the timing of his address is being viewed as highly symbolic. The Biden administration in December took the extraordinary step of launching a Justice Department investigation into the shooting of a Palestinian-American reporter by the Israel Defense Forces.
Israel in September conducted its own independent review in cooperation with the U.S. State Department, and U.S. lawmakers are accusing the administration—given the president's support for an additional FBI investigation—of kowtowing to radical elements in the Democratic Party who seek to transform Israel into a pariah state.
One senior State Department official told the Free Beacon that "attending this J Street event is like a blatant and obvious attempt to stick Bibi [Netanyahu] in the eye."
"Unfortunately," said the source, who was not authorized to speak on record, "it has the effect of undermining our relationship with Israel, and thus U.S. national security."
It's not the first sign that the Biden administration is less than elated at Netanyahu's reascension to power last month. Biden waited days to congratulate the newly elected Israeli leader, drawing accusations the president was trying to isolate Netanyahu's conservative government before it even was seated.
"The Biden administration is filled with partisans who hate Israel and Benjamin Netanyahu. They banned the use of the phrase 'Abraham Accords,' couldn't bring themselves to have President Biden call Netanyahu to congratulate him until their silence became comical, and now they're even unleashing the FBI," Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) told the Free Beacon. "So of course Secretary Blinken is going to J Street, an anti-Israel activist group that also criticized the Abraham Accords, loathes Netanyahu, and regularly calls for investigations against Israel. It's both disgraceful and predictable."
One former Israeli government official told the Free Beacon the administration is not even trying to hide its disdain for Netanyahu and his conservative coalition.
"This is simply bad diplomatic strategy," said the source, who would only speak on background so as not to upset either government. "Speaking to J Street may displease the incoming Israeli government, but they're hardly afraid of the lobby. This doesn't send a message of strength but rather one of petulance. Secretary Blinken should know better."
Update Dec. 2, 7:48 a.m.: This post has been updated with comment from the State Department.