J Street Founder Had ‘Open Door’ to Deputy Secretary of State, Internal Emails Show

J Street founder Jeremy Ben-Ami lobbied State Department to tamp down political activity in Jerusalem

L: J Street founder Jeremy Ben-Ami (Twiter) R: President Joe Biden (Getty Images)
February 21, 2024

The founder of J Street, a leading anti-Israel group, had an "open door" to the Biden State Department and coordinated with top administration officials—including former deputy secretary of state Wendy Sherman—to stymie political activity in Jerusalem, according to internal government emails obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.

Jeremy Ben-Ami, founder of J Street, a group funded by George Soros that has worked to undermine Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s conservative government, thanked senior State Department officials for providing him with an "open door" to the administration in June 2021 correspondence. J Street is a far-left group that advocates conditioning U.S. aid to Israel and has bashed the country's "large-scale bombing and ground invasion" in the Gaza Strip, claiming it has "caused an unfathomable level of civilian casualties." The group is pushing for an immediate ceasefire in Israel's war to eradicate Hamas, claiming there are "alternative strategies and tactics for removing Hamas" from power.

"Thanks for the open door," Ben-Ami wrote following an email exchange with then-deputy secretary of state Sherman, which came amid efforts by the Biden administration and outside groups to tamp down a massive pro-Israel march planned in Jerusalem. Ben-Ami’s note was forwarded by Sherman to other senior State Department staffers, including Victoria Nuland, the undersecretary for political affairs, and Michael Ratney, the U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia who was serving as the chargé d’affaires at the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem in 2021.

The correspondence provides a window into the Biden administration’s coordination with far-left groups as it sought to pressure the Israeli government into scaling back a Jerusalem Day demonstration that saw tens of thousands of Jewish Israelis march through the city carrying flags. It came as Israeli officials clashed privately with their U.S. counterparts in the lead up to the march, according to press reports. Israeli prime minister Netanyahu ultimately caved to pressure from the Biden administration to reroute the march away from Arab areas of Jerusalem and prevent Jews from entering the city's Temple Mount location, a religious site that bars Jews and non-Muslims from entering.

The event, which was rescheduled for June 2021 from May 2021 due to Palestinian terror attacks, was held a month after Hamas and other militant groups barraged the Jewish state with rockets, partially in response to the pre-planned demonstration. Ben-Ami said the march could reignite hostilities between Israel and its Palestinian neighbors.

"I wanted to be sure that you heard from me that the level of concerns from allies on the ground is actually greater about what is planned for Thursday than it was around the original date leading into May 10 (which was very high—and justifiably so)," Ben-Ami wrote. "I am deeply concerned about what could develop out of this and feel I’d be negligent in not raising."

At the time, Ben-Ami’s group J Street was working to cancel the event and was pressuring the Biden administration to challenge Israel’s approval for the march.

"J Street appreciates the efforts the Biden administration has made to reduce tensions thus far—including making clear to the Israeli government the need to prevent aggressive Jerusalem Day demonstrations," the group said in a statement at the time.

Publicly, the State Department urged "calm" and "restraint" ahead of the 2021 march, and pressed Israel "to avoid confrontations during the Jerusalem Day Commemoration." Internally, U.S. officials on the email thread expressed alarm over the Netanyahu government’s decision to let the march proceed in June, claiming the United States was told permission for it would not be granted.

"I notice this morning the Times of Israel is reporting that a decision was taken to reroute the march, rather than hold authorization completely as we were told," Ratney wrote to Sherman and other officials.

The State Department also placed Jerusalem's Old City off limits for officials stationed there, citing "violent confrontations and the upcoming celebrations and commemorations" related to Jerusalem Day.

Israeli officials reportedly criticized the Biden administration's intervention, saying that "Israel believes the Biden administration and the rest of the international community should stay out of the crisis in Jerusalem and avoid pressing Israel," Axios reported at the time.

As violence flared between Israel and the Palestinians over the tensions in Jerusalem, the Biden administration privately leaned on Israel to "lower tensions on the Temple Mount and cancel the annual Jerusalem Day flag parade," according to a separate Axios report.

In subsequent years, the Biden administration has continued to pressure Israel into rerouting the march away from areas near the Temple Mount, and have publicly criticized Jewish demonstrators for alleged anti-Arab hostility.

A State Department spokesman declined to comment "on the specifics" of its discussions with J Street and other outside advocacy groups, but said, as a general matter, U.S. officials "regularly engage a diverse group of civil society actors—in the United States and abroad."

Reed Rubinstein, senior counselor and director of oversight and investigations for America First Legal, a watchdog group that forced the State Department to publish these internal emails, said the records provide "evidence of the Biden administration’s deep hostility to Israel."

"These records show the Biden administration coordinating closely with outside anti-Israel groups to interfere in Israeli domestic affairs and to undo the Trump administration’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem," Rubinstein said. "It also seems that J Street—most notoriously a funding vehicle to advance the disastrous Obama/Biden Iran nuclear appeasement deal—has ready access to top Department of State officials."