Washington - 'J Street' Faces Battle in Congress
Washington - Although J Street opened its 25th field office within the past three months on Thursday ‚Äď a sign of its growing activist base ‚Äď its founder acknowledged that the lobby still faces an uphill battle pushing its agenda in the halls of Congress.
‚ÄúIt is unbelievably difficult to get members of Congress to sign on,‚ÄĚ J Street Executive Director Jeremy Ben-Ami said of efforts to recruit support for a new J Street-backed letter circulating on Capitol Hill.
The letter, co-sponsored by Democrats Bill Delahunt (MA), Ron Kind (WI), David Price (NC) and Vic Snyder (AR), urges US President Barack Obama ‚Äúto continue your strong efforts to bring US leadership to bear in moving the parties toward a negotiated two-state solution.‚ÄĚ It also cites controversial comments by US Gen. David Petraeus to make the case that ‚Äúcontinued lack of resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict threatens the security interests of both countries.‚ÄĚ
But, Ben-Ami said, the challenge is one J Street is poised to surmount.
‚ÄúNever before has there been a lobby that says, ‚ÄėYes, you must sign this letter,‚Äô‚ÄĚ he declared. ‚ÄúOne by one, 10 by 10, dozen by dozen, members of Congress are going to sign that letter.‚ÄĚ
Ben-Ami was speaking at the launch of J Street‚Äôs newest field office, in Washington, DC.
He also noted that one of the crucial lessons the self-described ‚Äúpro-Israel, pro-peace‚ÄĚ lobby has learned in the group‚Äôs two years of existence is the importance of demonstrating support for Israel in order to have traction among American Jews.
‚ÄúIt is so important to establish how clearly, how deeply we care about Israel,‚ÄĚ said Ben-Ami when asked about the biggest lessons he‚Äôs learned since organization debuted in April 2008.
The first message on Israel the group conveys needs to be that ‚Äúthis is a homeland that has every right to exist,‚ÄĚ he stressed.
The concerns about delegitimization of Israel are warranted, Ben-Ami pointed out, because of the real claims that it has no right to exist, and ongoing anti-Semitism in the country and around the world.
‚ÄúI think the toughest challenge is getting beyond that fear,‚ÄĚ he said of the organization‚Äôs efforts to draw in more Jewish supporters.
Though some 150,000 supporters have now joined the J Street list, according to Ben-Ami, the group has also faced a massive backlash from some quarters of the Jewish community that have attacked the progressive group‚Äôs pro-Israel credentials.
As opposed to many organizations which call themselves pro-Israel, J Street has taken several stances critical of the government of the Jewish state and has been willing to endorse pressure on the country to move it toward peace negotiations.
The lobby, which has a partner Political Action Committee, has been loudly opposed to settlement activity, elements of Israel‚Äôs military operations in Gaza and other actions it sees as harmful to peace efforts.
It has also received backing from certain individuals and groups calling for a one-state solution and supporting boycotts of Israel, though J Street rejects those positions.
But over the past several months, Israeli officials have said that they‚Äôve observed something of a moderation in J Street‚Äôs policies to positions they are more comfortable with ‚Äď most significantly a reversal of its opposition to sanctions on Teheran in favor of Congressional efforts to bar gasoline imports to Iran.
Moves such as that one cleared the way for Ben-Ami to hold a long-sought meeting with Israeli Ambassador to Washington Michael Oren last month, Israeli sources indicated.
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