Jeb Under Fire for Adviser’s Keynote to Anti-Israel Group

J St executive director: ‘What we hope is to have an open door to every candidate’

James Baker

James Baker / AP

BY:

Potential presidential contender Jeb Bush is coming under fire from the pro-Israel community ahead of his foreign policy adviser’s scheduled keynote address to a left-wing Middle East activist group on Monday night.

Bush adviser James Baker, the former secretary of state under President George H.W. Bush and a long-time critic of America’s close relationship with Israel, is slated to speak at the annual conference for J Street, a lobbying group that advocates for increased U.S. pressure on Israel.

J Street executive director Jeremy Ben Ami told the Washington Free Beacon that Baker’s advisory role with the former Florida governor could benefit J Street.

"What we hope is to have an open door to every candidate on both sides of the aisles, so perhaps this will help us have an open door, perhaps not," said Ben Ami.

Ben Ami added that this was not the first time J Street has found common cause with Republicans, noting that former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel also gave a keynote address at one of its conferences.

"We have endorsed Republican candidates four or five times," said Ben Ami. "When Senator Hagel was a Republican senator, he was our keynote address. So we've always wanted to try to have a good dialogue with the Republican Party and we've had some success, but minimal."

Baker’s scheduled address sparked criticism of Bush from Israel supporters, who called on the former governor to distance himself from the J Street conference.

"Coming as it does hard on the heels of [President Obama’s] open threats to isolate Israel, having someone so closely associated with his campaign serve in that role at an event dedicated to support for Obama’s hostile attitude toward Israel obligates Jeb to not let this happen without saying or doing something to disassociate himself from Baker," wrote Jonathan Tobin at Commentary.

Radio host Mark Levin also blasted Bush for bringing on Baker, saying, "Much like Barack Obama, [Baker] has always had a hate on for Israel."

"This antipathy toward Israel is well documented," said Levin, noting that the former secretary of state once blocked Netanyahu from entering the State Department and co-authored a policy paper that called for greater distance between the United States and Israel.

"This is the guy, the leading adviser to Jeb Bush on foreign policy, who Jeb Bush asked to be his leading adviser, and now he’s the keynote speaker to this left-wing hate group J Street," said Levin.

Bush's spokespeople have distanced the former Florida governor from J Street.

"Governor Bush finds J Street's advocacy to be inconsistent with his views and to the interests of a safe and secure Israel," said Bush spokesperson Kristy Campbell.

Tim Miller, a spokesperson for Bush, told the Free Beacon Friday that Baker was one of numerous foreign policy advisers the former governor consults with.

"When it comes to J Street, in particular, [Bush] firmly opposes lobbying groups whose actions undermine Israel’s efforts to defend itself," said Miller.

Alana Goodman   Email | Full Bio | RSS
Alana Goodman is a staff writer for the Washington Free Beacon. Prior to joining the Beacon, she was assistant online editor at Commentary. She has written for the Weekly Standard, the New York Post and the Washington Examiner. Goodman graduated from the University of Massachusetts in 2010, and lives in Washington, D.C. Her Twitter handle is @alanagoodman. Her email address is goodman@freebeacon.com.

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