Carol Felsenthal
On politics

J Street, Progressive Alternative to AIPAC, Backs Area Congressional Candidates

The Tribune reported last week that Tammy Duckworth, the Democratic challenger in the race for the 8th District, outraised the tea party-backed freshman, Joe Walsh, in the second quarter. Duckworth’s $888,790 total take included almost $50,000 “steered” to her by J Street, a D.C.-based PAC that is finding a stronghold here in Chicago…

The Tribune’s Rick Pearson reported last week that Tammy Duckworth, the Democratic challenger in the race for the 8th Congressional District, outraised the tea party-backed freshman, Joe Walsh, in the second quarter. Duckworth’s $888,790 total take included almost $50,000 “steered” to her by J Street, a D.C.-based PAC that is finding a stronghold here in Chicago as it strives to be the alternative to AIPAC, the powerful, sometimes hawkish granddaddy of lobbyists for Israel.

A relatively new (circa 2008) group whose purpose is to promote the two-state path to a Middle East peace, J Street “steered” $47,733 to Duckworth, who is  on the record favoring  “a two-state solution”—while Walsh wrote in a Washington Times op-ed piece that “…everyone who continues to cling to the delusion of a two-state solution is insane.”  

PR woman Marilyn Katz, a founding J.Street member, told me by telephone on Friday that she ranks Chicago as “close to New York in strength, with about 5,000 members,” and says that once the idea of having a pro-Israel, pro-peace, two-state voice was proposed,  “Chicago and North Shore progressives flocked to it.”

That number is minute compared to lobbying giant AIPAC, which, although it has PAC in its acronym—the letters stand for American Israel Public Affairs Committee—does not have a political action committee and does not give money directly to individual candidates.

But J Street does, and it is inserting itself in congressional races—60 nationwide—where, in this volatile political season, its support could make a difference. 

Locally, the group has endorsed five candidates, all Democrats: Duckworth, Danny Davis, Jan Schakowsky, Bill Foster, and Cheri Bustos (running in the 17th District against “Tea Party Republican Bobby Schilling”). In fact, every J Street-endorsed candidate nationwide is a Democrat; not a single Republican, although the PAC calls itself “non-partisan.”

Katz said every one of the five in Illinois has declared support for a two-state solution. Davis and Schakowsky will do just fine without J Street, but the National Journal, which has named 75 House districts most likely to change hands in November, six of them in Illinois, ranks the Walsh-Duckworth slugfest as the third most likely to flip parties (and the most likely statewide).  

J Street has made no endorsement in the 10th District, which includes parts of the North Shore and pits Republican incumbent Bob Dold against Democrat Brad Schneider. Katz said that Schneider “does not hold a two-state position.” She said he wasn’t offered an endorsement, and she does not know if he’d take one if offered, although she notes that there are J Streeters working in his campaign. (National Journal ranks the 10th District as the eighth most likely nationally to flip parties.)

I spoke to Schneider’s press secretary Friday on the question of a J Street endorsement; he promised a call back, but no word yet as of post time.

J Street has some big Chicago names on its official leadership roster—its three local founders are Marge Benton, Ruth Rothstein, and Bernice Weissbourd. Other supporters here include Bill Singer, Jim Klutznick, Leon Lederman, Bill Marovitz, Abner Mikva, Judson Miner, Newt Minow, Lew and Susan Manilow. J Street also lists some 35 Chicago-area rabbis and cantors as belonging to its “Rabbinic Cabinet.”  Some of them are prominent leaders, former and current, of local synagogues—Temple Sholom, Temple Emanuel, Chicago Sinai Congregation, and Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation among them.

In the wake of the suicide bombing Wednesday in Burgas, Bulgaria, that claimed the lives of five Israelis and gravely injured many more, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promptly blamed “Hezbollah, the long arm of Iran” for the carnage.  AIPAC supporters would tend to be open to taking steps to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons—and that would include an Israeli raid on Iran’s nuclear sites; J Streeters would tend to urge caution and continue sanctions and negotiation. I asked Katz if the current political landscape in Israel bodes well or poorly for J Street’s mission. She argued that the Bulgarian tragedy makes J Street all the more relevant: “Until we come to a two-state solution, the continuing, festering issue will exacerbate tensions. Radical Islamists and dictators will use Israel as an excuse to fuel the flames….Israel will only be safe with a two-state solution.”

In an op-ed piece Katz wrote, published in the Tribune on Wednesday, hours before news of Bulgaria hit, she blasted Israel’s West Bank settlements,  “…some…built on private Palestinian land, all built on lands that have been owned and farmed by Palestinians for hundreds, if not thousands of years.” She described the Israeli settlement of Ariel in a village called Kefr Al Dik, and reported that waste from Arial  “flows untreated into the streams upon which Kefr Al Dik traditionally relied for water for its homes and olive groves…. One can imagine from looking at the map of settlements that what… Netanyahu has in mind for his `unilateral Palestinian state’ is a fragmented set of Palestinian settlements connected by underground roads and all bordered by the state of Israel. Kind of like what we in the U.S. did to the Native Americans.”

“Would you have changed any of your words in your op-ed if you knew what lay ahead in Bulgaria?” I asked Katz. She responded via email, “I would have written the same. It was also two days after the ‘settlement watch’ leader Hagit Ofran came home to death threats grafittied all over her apartment, and two weeks [after] a series of horrific anti-Palestinian rallies…. In other words, there is never a great time.”

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2 years ago
Posted by chris robling

the fact it's self-proclaimed "non-partisan"-ship isn't laughed at is tied to the group's nature: it's just another dem pac, formulated to overcome the inconvenient reality that goppers tend to vote more frequently in ways that materially benefit israeli security.

if there existed such an animal, which proclaimed non-partisanship, and supported goppers 100 percent, it would be hooted at and attacked.

this isn't because it is predominantly liberal and secondarily supportive of israeli physical security.

but on the same line

2 years ago
Posted by chris robling

the fact it's self-proclaimed "non-partisan"-ship isn't laughed at is tied to the group's nature: it's just another dem pac, formulated to overcome the inconvenient reality that goppers tend to vote more frequently in ways that materially benefit israeli security.

if there existed such an animal, which proclaimed non-partisanship, and supported goppers 100 percent, it would be hooted at and attacked by carol and others.

but in this case, the double standard operates perfectly, and the irreconcilable are neatly aligned. '...it is predominantly liberal and secondarily supportive of who knows what? that's OK, it is primarily liberal.'

israeli security is far too complex -- and important -- to fit in our domestic political boxes. i recall a liz holztman (d) - jake javits (liberal party, though a lifelong moderate northeastern r) exchange. 'i support the freedom of the state of israel' liz said in her losing senate race against the javits and d'amato. javits, an estimable and accomplished legislator, thundered, 'the freedom of israel depends on our deployed fleet in the mediterranean. you can't support one if you vote against the other...' in year years in congress, holtzman had opposed every new weapons system and not once voted for a u.s. defense department appropriations bill.

al d'amato (r, conservative party and right to life party), who was also strong for israel, beat both. two years later, he was the only united states senator to stand on the floor of the senate and support israel's destruction of saddam's osirak nuclear reactor.

2 years ago
Posted by SKEPTICAL

Robling your examples are interesting, although fully 35 and 30 years old. I think to call J Street just another dem pac is to vastly oversimplify American Jewish politics. J Street hasn't been around very long. Unlike AIPAC, it doesn't appear to be made up excluisively of Jewish Americans. If they continue to support only Democrats they will vastly inhibit the growth of their Jewish membership and Jewish fund raising and will ultimately have to choose between Cemocratic and their focus on Israel. But the rift that exists in the nuances of support of American Jews for Israeli policy represented by the pnenomenom of J Street will likely only last until the next Middle Eastern war involving Israel.

2 years ago
Posted by Bill Baar

Eli Lake had a piece in the Washington Times Sep 24, 2010. J Street is largely a George Soros front, and J Street took some pains to hide that. http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2010/sep/24/soros-funder-liberal-jewish-american-lobby/

2 years ago
Posted by miltlev

I read with great interest your recent column on J Street and its endorsement and financial support of 5 Democratic candidates, all of whom support a two state solution. I am somewhat familiar with the 10th Congressional District race, and the Brad Schneider campaign. Brad had a tough primary race against a 25 year old neophyte (can’t remember his name – a senior moment) who had the support of Move On.org, which came out with sensational literature that Brad had previously (it turns out to be several years ago) contributed to the campaigns of several Republicans. Brad explained that he had indeed done so at the behest of AIPAC. Brad handily won the primary, having espoused a two state solution, contrary to Marilyn’s statement to you. Iona and I know Brad well, Iona having met him as her successor as Chairman of the Aliyah Council. He is also active in many other Jewish communal institutions, including the Jewish Federation. I guess his previous support of an AIPAC position turned J Street and Marilyn off. Brad has a great chance of winning because reapportionment has made the 10 th District much more Democratic.

By the way, Marilyn Katz previously was the leader of another organization called Not in My Name, a pro-Palestinian group of left wingers. I engaged her in an email debate claiming that the pro-Palestinian position of that organization didn’t make sense. We ended our email conversation when she wrote that she couldn’t change her position because of her many girl friends had politically correct pro-Politician positions – not exactly a great argument – except if you are other- directed.

I notice you picked up on her article in the Tribune. Iona and I sent the Tribune a response to that article, which I will post. Since then I found out what she meant by a “30,000 acre” Israeli land grab. The situation is described in an article by Amira Hess (very pro-Palestinian) in 7/23/12 Ha’Arretz. It appears that the issue involves 30,000 dunams (about 7,500 acres, not 30,000 acres) which the IDF has used as a training range from which it wants to evict the present dwellers for their own safety, and the issue is before the Israel Supreme Court on a petition by the Association for Civil Right in Israel and by an Israeli attorney, representing the dwellers.. Marilyn apparently doesn’t think she needs check out her startling revelations from Palestinian sources, nor tell the whole story, and continues to have little faith in the Israel Supreme Court rendering a just decision, as it did in the Ulpana case which she referred to in her article. The Israeli rightist exorcise the Supreme Court for some of its positions, but nevertheless it decisions are honored by the government of Israel which enforces them.

The Times of Israel has a similar article (7/24/12)about the firing range and the Supreme Court case.

2 years ago
Posted by miltlev

Here is a letter to the editor which I sent to the Tribune in response to Marilyn Katz's article, which I think you will find of interest:

Simplistic Solution Unrealistic

The view expressed by Marilyn Katz (who claims expertise based on a visit to a Palestinian village) that the Israeli settlements are the key problem, is simplistic and most unhelpful in furthering the Peace Process. She is to be complimented for recognizing that Israel is a land of law when its Supreme Court recently ordered the evacuation of apartment buildings in Ulpana after finding that the land was owned by persons who were not compensated for its taking. Given this Supreme Court decision her assertion that all settlements were built on private Palestinian land defies credulity.

And her assertion of a "30,000 acre land grab” for settlement expansion is patently untrue. In the vain hope of bringing Palestinians to the bargaining table, in addition to unilaterally ceasing all settlement construction for many months, Israel has currently limited all settlement construction within existing boundaries.

The vision of Palestinians having farmed the land for hundreds of years in idyllic tranquility is a narrative created by them for self- serving purposes. Most of the land was fallow: some without title, some with absentee Arab landowners, and all under the control of Jordan. The land for settlements was acquired by purchase or had no owner prior to the construction of settlements, except, perhaps, in those cases under review of the Supreme Court.

Israel wants to incorporate only adjacent settlements in order to widen its indefensible 8 mile wide border opposite Tel Aviv, and has declared a willingness to evacuate outlying areas at the cost of great internal strife. Contrary to Ms. Katz's fears, there is no proposed “lop-sided " resolution of the problem; Israel has proposed an equal exchange of land, dunam for dunam to compensate for these acquisitions.

The Peace Process has other enormously complex issues, including borders, refugees, and the status of Jerusalem. Several U.S. Presidents and many experienced and gifted diplomats have wrestled with these issues and set forth reasonable solutions which have consistently been rejected by the Palestinians. In one case they responded not with an alternative offer, but an intifada resulting in the death of many hundreds of Israeli citizens who were murdered commuting to work on exploded buses, relaxing in cafes and night clubs, or gathering for a Passover celebration. These massacres and others were perpetrated by terrorists, aided and abetted by the PLO, with the support of Iran, Syria and Hezbollah. For these reasons, consideration of Israel’s security needs is an absolute requirement for any solution to the problem.

If the Palestinians reject reasonable solutions while continuing to bombard Israeli cities with rockets, and educating their children with textbooks that inspire hatred of Israel and Jews, there will be no solution. The pain and anguish suffered by both populations will continue until there will be a true peace. And history has demonstrated there is no alternative: peace will be obtained only with face-to-face negations by the parties who have so much to gain.

1 year ago
Posted by Hidden Truth-- J Street Lies

Marilyn Katz may be described by some as a "self-hating" Jew, willing to share lies without any shame about the Israeli-Arab conflict. The two state solution would bring another terror state within minutes from the heart of the Jewish people, Jerusalem. Show evidence of ANY Arab country willing to make a permanent warm peace with it's own people let alone the Jewish people. It's absurd to consider adding yet another terror platform in addition to HAMAS, HIzbo-allah, SYRIA, Sinai and likely Egypt.
Add Turkey and threat from IRAN becoming armed with Nukes. Marilyn and her fellow progressive jews need to care more about their own people than the political far left agenda for change. Maybe a soul searching and heartfelt awareness of the positive contribution the Jews have made in the middle east would be helpful before ripping away at the security of the state.

Wake up and see the ARAB's for how they behave toward their own tribes, women, gays, press, and reformers before attacking the non perfect but incredible living democracy of Israel.

Marilyn take ownership of your shameful behavior toward your people... and fight the real enemies of peace.

8 months ago
Posted by rbk

what do you think about this? http://www.indiegogo.com/project/preview/e9b810b0sresnico@depaul.edu

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