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J Street’s Muslim Funding for Peace

(Inter Press Service)

Right-wing pundits and bloggers have been trumpeting news reports that Muslims and Arabs are among the donors to the J Street political action committee (PAC).

The J Street PAC lobbies for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and helps raise funds for candidates who share its views on promoting American leadership in the peace process.

The report that J Street PAC receives a small percentage of its contributions ——J Street’s Executive Director Jeremy Ben-Ami guesses it’s about three-percent— from people with Arab or Muslim names has gotten significant attention in right -wing publications and blogs such as American Thinker, The Weekly Standard blog, and Israel National News.

“Arab and Muslim donors are extremely rare for other organi zations that describe themselves as supporters of Israel, as J Street does,” wrote the Jerusalem Post‘s Hilary Leila Krieger in an August 14 article entitled “ Muslims, Arabs among J Street Donors. ”

While the Jerusalem Post took care to present these statistics without crossing the line into explicit allegations against J Street, far-right pundits quoted in the article and right-wing bloggers have not fe lt compelled to hold back— they have suggest ed that J Street’s willingness to take money from Arabs and Muslims undermines their pro-Israel credentials.

“This is one more indication that J Street should be looked upon warily and with a great deal of s kepticism when it tries to pass itself off as being a supporter of strong American-Israel ties,” writes Ed Lasky on The American Thinker, a conservative website.

“Twenty donors had what could be Arab or Muslim last names,” J Street’s Ben-Ami told Inter Press Service. “For all I know their families could have been in this country for two hundred years.”

“They are using this to delegitimi ze the voice of J Street as that of American Jews. This is impossible for an organi zation that gets well over 90 percent of its money from Jewish Americans.”

J Street’s position as a new  voice for moderate Jews in the United States (it was founded in 2008) and as a counterbalance to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) —which generally takes positions in line with the right-leaning Israeli Likud party —has not come without some difficulties.

Neoconservatives and other members of the far-right came into direct conflict with J Street in May 2008 when J Street issued a statement calling on Republican presidential candidate John McCain to “renounce John Hagee once and for all.”

Many Jews took offense with Hagee’s characteri zation of Hitler as doing God’s work by helping to bring Jews to Israel, and AIPAC found itself in the difficult position of fighting to keep its pro-Israel credentials while not severing its valuable ties to the Christian-Zionist movement and the Christian Right.

The divide between moderate Jews and neoconservatives —many of whom see the alliance with Christian Zionists such as Hagee as a valuable relationship —has proven to be a fault line for organi zations seeking to characteri ze themselves as pro-Israel.

AIPAC supporters continue to express animosity towards J Street and the latest report from the Jerusalem Post seems to only give them more ammunition.

“It seems this mythical group of Jews who were heretofore unable to speak for themselves are either unable or unwilling to support an organi zation like J Street all on their own. They need a little help from their Muslim friends,” wrote hardliner Michael Goldfarb on the Weekly Standard‘s blog.

“J Street focuses far more of its energy on purging the pro-Israel community of people like Hagee than it does on any other single issue,” Goldfarb writes, adding that Hagee’s controversial Hitler statements  “were bizarre, but not anti-Israel.”

Far-right commentators are expressing disapproval with J Street PAC’s willingness to take donations from Arabs and Muslims  by implying it undermines the organi zation’s commitment to Israel and the majority of American Jews.

But as J Street has been quick to point out, its contributions from non-Jews suggest that they have expanded the demographic of people willing to be label ed as “pro-Israel,” and that people who consider themselves pro-Israel don’t have to be anti-Arab or anti-Palestinian.

“I don’t actually see it as an accusation. I see it as a truth. A small percentage of money J Street raises comes from people who are non Jewish,” said Ben- Ami. “I’m thrilled to see there are non-Jews who are pro-Israel who see that Israel’s future depends on making peace with the Palestinians.”

“I wonder what the implications are for any effort to reach a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict if you really believe that anyone whose religion happens to be other than yours can’t share a common agenda ?”

Eli Clifton writes for the Inter Press Service.

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