Published January 26, 2011
A liberal Jewish congressman tore into the liberal Jewish lobbying firm J Street this week, saying the organization's "brains have fallen out" after it urged the Obama administration not to veto a proposed U.N. resolution condemning Israel.
Rep. Gary Ackerman, D-N.Y., effectively cut ties with J Street, a group that raised campaign money for him last year, in a searing press release Tuesday. The tipping point was the group's call for the administration to clear the way for a Palestinian-backed proposal at the U.N. Security Council condemning Israel's settlement expansion.
"I've come to the conclusion that J-Street is not an organization with which I wish to be associated," Ackerman said.
J Street bills itself as the voice for "pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans," and is often critical of Israel's policies in the process. That hasn't stopped Ackerman from associating with the group before, but the organization's stance on the resolution triggered a harsh response.
"The decision to endorse the Palestinian and Arab effort to condemn Israel in the U.N. Security Council is not the choice of a concerned friend trying to help. It is rather the befuddled choice of an organization so open-minded about what constitutes support for Israel that its brains have fallen out," he said. "America really does need a smart, credible, politically active organization that is as aggressively pro-peace as it is pro-Israel. Unfortunately, J-Street ain't it."
Ackerman accused the Palestinians of refusing to make "unilateral gestures of good faith" and sending Obama administration-led peace talks into a "dead end."
"But astonishingly, it is Israel that J-Street would put in the stocks in the public square," he said.
J Street, in response, objected to Ackerman's remarks, saying they reflect a "misunderstanding" of their position and the resolution. President Jeremy Ben-Ami said in a statement that the group does not "endorse" the resolution but by the same token does not want the administration to veto language which would also support a two-state solution and the continuation of peace talks.
"Saving the two-state solution will require leaders with courage and vision, both of which are sadly lacking in the congressman's statement," he said.
J Street outlined its original position in a Jan. 20 statement, reasoning that since U.S. policy holds that Israel should stop building settlements, the United States should not be opposed to a U.N. resolution condemning them.
"The resolution introduced in the United Nations Security Council this week condemns Israel's ongoing settlement activity and calls on both parties to continue negotiating final status issues in an effort to resolve the conflict in the short term. These are sentiments that we share and that we believe a majority of Jewish Americans and friends of Israel share," the group said.
J Street said that, preferably, diplomatic action would avert the need for the resolution, which it said was created in the "vacuum" resulting from the failure of peace talks.
"However, if the resolution does come to a vote, we urge the Obama administration to work to craft language, particularly around Jerusalem, that it can support condemning settlement activity and promoting a two-state solution," the group said. "While we hope never to see the state of Israel publicly taken to task by the United Nations, we cannot support a U.S. veto of a resolution that closely tracks long-standing American policy and that appropriately condemns Israeli settlement policy."
While the United States has not said whether it would veto the proposal, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed disappointment in it last week.
"The only way that there will be a resolution of the conflict ... is through a negotiated settlement," she said, according to AFP. "Therefore, we don't see action at the U.N. or any other forum as being helpful in bringing about this desired outcome."