The Jewish Advocate

June 10, 2011

Jewry with the fringe on top: Boston JCRC boosts J Street

Andrea Levin

I n the wake of the slaughter of five members of an Israeli family in early March, a terrorist act that included slitting the throat of a baby, 46 Congressional leaders sent a letter to President Barack Obama denouncing the Palestinian culture of hatred that “damages prospects” for peace and “encourages terrorism.”

It seems obvious any supporter of Israel would appreciate such a letter. Indeed, according to a May 16- 17, 2011, poll by Luntz Global for CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America), 81 percent of Jews said they’d be more likely to vote for representatives who signed such a letter; just 2 percent said they’d be less likely.

However, J Street – a group that bills itself as the true voice of American Jewry – actually lobbied against the letter.

The same discrepancy between the vast majority of the American Jewish public and J Street was evident in the 2008- 2009 Gaza conflict, which followed years of Hamas rocket and mortar bombardment of Israel. Seventy-seven percent of American Jews supported Israel’s military action; 9 percent opposed it, according to a Luntz poll. Again, J Street aggressively promoted the latter, marginal view. Outgoing head of the Reform Movement Eric Yoffie termed J Street statements denouncing Israel as “morally deficient, profoundly out of touch with Jewish sentiment and also appallingly naive.”

On numerous other critical issues bearing on Israel’s survival at a critical time, J Street works at dramatic cross-purposes to the vast majority of American Jews.

Lacking community support for its hard-left positions, J Street seeks a foothold inside establishment Jewish groups to push its policies to counter mainstream efforts defending Israel and, at the same time, to claim it speaks for more than a small fringe.

On May 25, 2011, the group scored big in Boston, when it was voted onto the Jewish Community Relations Council.

The saga began in January 2010 when the JCRC ignored its own bylaws and allowed J Street to slip in the back door, without applying like all other groups. This happened without discussion, without a vote, without a shred of publicity. The group was simply added by committee, via supposedly absorbing an existing member organization, Brit Tzedek V’Shalom, which was closing down.

No coverage followed in The Jewish Advocate. Nothing. The wider Boston Jewish community had no idea the group had been admitted to what is assumed to be the mainstream voice of Boston Jews on various issues, including aspects of Israeli policy. The facts only emerged nearly a year later when the group’s director, Jeremy Ben Ami, was disinvited from a speaking event at a Newton synagogue. In media reporting on the controversy, it was noted that J Street was a JCRC member.

Even the Combined Jewish Philanthropy’s Barry Shrage was surprised by the revelation, though the council is heavily funded by CJP. Shrage checked into the story and was told of the Brit Tzedek–J Street merger.

Damage-control efforts ensued, including the announcement that all 41 JCRC organizational members would be rescreened for adherence to membership requirements – an unprecedented measure and a transparent effort to deflect focus from J Street’s irregular admission.

CAMERA, a national, Bostonbased organization and council member for 20 years, asked renowned non-profit law specialist Bruce Hopkins about the Brit Tzedek–J Street merger. His response was that J Street’s admission to the JCRC was clearly “illegal.” Brit Tzedek V’Shalom, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization – and J Street’s backdoor route to JCRC membership – cannot, in fact, legally merge with J Street, which is a 501(c)4 lobby. Non-profit groups receive tax-deductible donations; lobbies do not.

Adding to the deception, Brit Tzedek V’Shalom is not actually defunct; it filed a governmentrequired annual report in January 2011 – a full year after J Street claimed Brit Tzedek had disappeared.

CAMERA provided all this information to JCRC officers and to member organizations. But many in the JCRC are J Street allies and so, again, the council ran interference for the group. This time J Street was made kosher by a retroactive name change.

Instead of J Street being on the council, it would be J Street Educational Fund – a 501(c)3 adjunct of J Street. The year and a-half-long membership, during which time J Street was seated unlawfully while pushing through radical policy recommendations, would be retroactively legitimized!

This was all perfectly fine with most of those attending the May 25 meeting. Even a proposal to postpone a vote and have J Street finally apply in a normal process without special treatment and in the full light of day was voted down. In the final tally, 9 voted against admission, 11 abstained and 56 voted for the group. These numbers include as many as 41 “community representatives,” individuals whose vote is the same as that of someone speaking for an organization with thousands of Boston-area members. Notably, several of Boston’s largest Jewish organizations were absent, abstained or voted against.

Many Jews in Boston would be appalled to know how the JCRC bent the rules for J Street.

Many would be equally shocked to know that while J Street has been a “member” of the JCRC, it has aggressively promoted policies far outside the mainstream. In a January 2011 meeting, the group’s representative successfully pushed through a motion diluting the language in a statement calling for Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. The same person also pushed through a motion opposing Israel’s insistence on direct negotiations with the Palestinians. Yet another vote almost succeeded in calling for division of Jerusalem.

In the end, J Street was welcomed and its fringe proposals adopted for the obvious reason that the JCRC itself has drifted to the far left and away from most of the 250,000 Boston area Jews in whose name the group acts and speaks. Those on the council who oppose extremist positions are outvoted and even smeared as uncivil. Many leave.

What can be done? For starters, perhaps CJP should review why it funds a JCRC that flouts its own bylaws to boost a radical organization.

It wouldn’t be the first time a council was hijacked by the far left, neglecting the views of its public. Polls have underscored this phenomenon in the past. Today in Indiana Jews have walked away from their JCRC and formed a successful umbrella group with a mainstream, pro-Israel mission and strong outreach to the wider public, elected officials and the media.

Boston’s Jewish community also needs a representative, mainstream voice. Whether there is the public will to reform the existing radicalized JCRC or, instead, to start a new organization is the question. It’s a question that should be taken seriously by all who care about Israel’s survival and wellbeing.

Andrea Levin is executive director and president of CAMERA, Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America

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