J Street Credibility: Not So Good

JStreet, the liberal lobby group that proclaims itself to be the “pro-peace, pro-Israel” alternative to AIPAC, has denied that it receives funding from George Soros. Here is what the organization’s “myths and facts” page said, and still says:

Myth:
Liberal financier George Soros founded and is the primary funder of J Street.

Fact:
George Soros did not found J Street. In fact, George Soros very publicly stated his decision not to be engaged in J Street when it was launched – precisely out of fear that his involvement would be used against the organization.

J Street’s Executive Director has stated many times that he would in fact be very pleased to have funding from Mr. Soros and the offer remains open to him to be a funder should he wish to support the effort.

I don’t know how any reasonable person could read this and conclude anything but that J Street had not received funding from Soros since it was launched.

But it turns out that Soros and his children gave 245K to J street from July 2008 to June 2009, a gift that JStreet now acknowledges was one installment in a three year gift of 750K.

JStreet’s response to the revelations? Obfuscation: “J Street has always said that George Soros did not found J Street and did not provide its initial funding – a decision about which he was very public before the organization’s launching in 2008.” Okay, but you also suggested about as strongly as possible that you did not receive funding from him after launch, and that was a lie.

Also of interest: “Nearly half of J Street’s revenue during the timeframe — a total of $811,697 —, came from a single donor in Happy Valley, Hong Kong, named Consolacion Esdicul.” So, while JStreet has portrayed itself, and has been portrayed by many in the media, as a reaction of liberal American Jews against AIPAC, half its funding in its launch year came from someone in Hong Kong, and another 15% from the Soros family.

Why is Soros especially controversial? Because many have questioned JStreet’s pro-Israel credentials, seeing it as simply a stalking horse for a left-wing, or simply pro-Democrat, agenda. As Ben Smith of Politico notes, Soros doesn’t exactly come across as a supporter of Israel, or even the idea of Israel: “I don’t deny the Jews their right to a national existence–but I don’t want to be part of it.” A funny statement for a major funder of a “pro-Israel” organization.

It’s a shame, because as I’ve noted before, an organization like JStreet could fill an important niche: provide liberal Jews with an outlet to be pro-Israel but critical of some Israeli policies, while also defending Israel from hostile opinion on the far left.

UPDATE: By the way, I had read JStreet’s Myths and Facts page in the past, and understood its comments about Soros to mean that Soros had not financially supported JStreet since it launched. So I feel personally lied to.

FURTHER UPDATE: And here’s what seems to be an explicit lie by Jeremy Ben-Ami, founder and Executive Director of JStreet, from the March/April 2010 issue of Moment Magazine: “In a rueful nod to J Street’s lingering Soros taint, Ben-Ami gripes good-naturedly, “We got tagged as having his support, without the benefit of actually getting funded!”

MORE: The Atlantic’s Chris Good:

A set of half-truths, non-truths and ambiguities from J Street lead a reasonable person to conclude that the group tried to falsely conceal that George Soros has been one of its largest donors for years, and to falsely claim that it had been “open” about those donations over the past three years. J Street also seemed to distort the fact that it received a large donation from Hong Kong. Some of this happened on the phone with me earlier today.