The liberal fringe group J Street is facing renewed questions over its purported dishonesty to journalists and editors after one of its top campus officials penned an op-ed that was so thoroughly riddled with factual errors that a leading Israeli publication was forced to delete the piece and apologize.
Jacob Plitman, the president of J Street U’s National Student Board, recently attacked several pro-Israel groups in an editorial published by the Times of Israel (TOI). However, TOI editors quickly removed the piece after at least four major factual errors were discovered, according to an explanation of the incident provided to the Washington Free Beacon by sources close to the incident.
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This is not the first time that J Street has come under fire for misleading reporters and editors at major publications.
J Street executive director Jeremy Ben-Ami triggered a press backlash when he attempted to spin former Atlantic reporter Chris Good as part of a 2010 damage control campaign surrounding liberal billionaire George Soros’ financial involvement in the group.
Atlantic writer Jeffrey Goldberg, who has supported J Street, published multiple pieces criticizing the group, including for trying to "wildly" spin reporter Good.
Ben-Ami so thoroughly distorted information he provided to the Atlantic that Good himself published a follow-up piece outlining the "half-truths, non-truths, and ambiguities from J Street."
The more recent example of J Street’s effort to distort the facts in the press comes in the form of Plitman’s TOI editorial, which sought to discredit the Jewish campus fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi) and Christians United for Israel (CUFI).
Plitman’s factually inaccurate essay, insiders say, has once again eroded J Street’s diminishing credibility with leading reporters and editors in Israel and Washington, D.C., many of whom have been "openly mocking" J Street.
"J Street's press efforts have always been kind of amateurish, but in the last year they've gotten much worse," said one senior official with a Washington-based pro-Israel group. "Experienced reporters will never trust them again on account of all the past lying, but even when they're not lying they can't get taken seriously."
"There was a particular day earlier this year when the journalists in town started openly mocking J Street's press team for trying to convince reporters that the organization was responsible for blocking Iran sanctions," said the source. "Now it turns out that J Street can't even be trusted to publish their own material without forcing editors to issue humiliating retractions. This incident illustrates exactly why no one in the world of journalism wants to work with these guys."
Plitman, upset that J Street had been rejected from the Jewish community’s leading umbrella organization, the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, of which AEPi is a member, criticized the fraternity over ties to CUFI, one of the nation’s leading pro-Israel organizations.
"Apparently AEPi’s Israel-related work now extends to financial support for pro-settlement Christian groups," Plitman wrote.
However, CUFI has never received any funding from AEPi, which told the Free Beacon that the fraternity "does not have any financial relationship in place with CUFI, nor have there been any such discussions."
"Any statement that indicates otherwise is completely false," the AEPi spokesman told the Free Beacon.
Plitman also wrote: "Adam Milstein, the speaker of the 2011 AEPi National Convention, is a real estate mogul sitting on the boards of a virtual pantheon of right-wing organizations including the Hasbara Fellowship … and even the pro-settlement evangelical group Christians United for Israel."
But Milstein is not on CUFI’s board, according to a full list of CUFI board members.
Plitman additionally refers to CUFI as a "pro-settlement evangelical group." However, CUFI does not take a position on Israeli settlements, a point emphasized by the group’s founder in a 2010 op-ed.
Plitman also inaccurately quoted a student member of CUFI’s campus organization.
He quotes that student as saying: "CUFI is great in that we have materials and all of that. But as leaders on our campuses, (Israel Amplified can provide us) these things—funding, grants, scholarships, resources, materials, and video—anything you need."
Plitman edited and altered the full quote to create a false impression in his piece, according to the full quote:
And then, how to get resources! That was probably my favorite part. There were so many people there willing to help. They want you to call them when you get home. They want to support you. It’s great that I know I can get help from all these different organizations. CUFI is great in that we have materials and all of that. But Israel Amplified opens it up a step further. As leaders on our campuses, we can apply for all these things—funding, grants, scholarships, resources, materials, and videos—anything you need to take different angles depending on whom you’re talking to.
The litany of errors forced CUFI to express concern to TOI editors, who later removed the article and put in its place a message that states: "This post has been removed by TOI for editorial reasons."
TOI editors did not respond to a Free Beacon request seeking further information about the incident.
CUFI spokesman Ari Morgenstern told the Free Beacon that his organization privately expressed their concerns to TOI.
"We don’t publicly discuss such conversations with journalists so I won’t characterize their reaction, but I will say generally that CUFI communicated to the Times of Israel our concerns with the rampant errors in Plitman’s piece," Morgenstern said.
"Facts are very important to understanding the conflict in the Middle East and differences of opinion about that conflict here in the U.S.," Morgenstern added. "You can’t make up facts and edit quotes to suit your political purposes. This entire op-ed rests on a series of errors. Adam Milstein does not sit on our board, CUFI has never received any funding from AEPi, and we have never lobbied in support of Israeli settlements."
CUFI executive director David Brog said that J Street continues to undermine its credibility and erode what little support it still has in the pro-Israel world.
"J Street keeps telling everyone that all they want is a seat at the table to promote their views," Brog told the Free Beacon. "But instead—from their first days until yesterday—they've been far more focused on launching false attacks against Christians United for Israel and other pro-Israel organizations."
"Why aren't they out there making this case instead of devoting all of their energy to attacking those of us who do?" Brog asked.
J Street declined to estimate the amount of its remaining credibility when asked by the Free Beacon.
The TOI controversy was highlighted by college student Daniel Mael, one of several pro-Israel college students who have taken to regularly sparring with J Street.
Observers further noted that the escalating battles between college students and J Street were in contrast to the minimal attention that major Jewish organizations have been paying to the left-wing group since its application to join the mainstream Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations was denied a few weeks ago.
The D.C.-based insider told the Free Beacon that J Street had become like "the Bad Boy crew in Hit ‘Em Up," an apparent reference to a May 1996 song with that title by hip hop artist Tupac Shakur.
The song played a central role in the East Coast–West Coast hip-hop rivalry of the 1990's. In it Mr. Shakur denigrates his former friend Biggie Smalls (The Notorious B.I.G.), as well as Mr. Smalls’ colleagues in Bad Boy Records, by among other things declaring: "I don't even know why I'm on this track / You all n***s ain't even on my level / I'm going to let my little homies / Ride on you b***h-made *** Bad Boys b***s."
Other political insiders have also taken note of what they called J Street’s lack of credibility.
"On the Hill we value people who can bring us helpful information or perspectives we don't otherwise get," said one former chief of staff to a senator. "J Street does neither. They are all emotion and high hopes. They are an irrelevance to all but a fringe blinded by ideology."