I hope that we have a very strong left flank that attacks us, that Jewish Voice for Peace and other groups that are consistently upset with us for backing Howard Berman’s sanctions plan and for refusing to embrace the Goldstone report and for standing up for the right of Israel to defend itself or for its military aid — I hope we get attacked from the left because I would characterize J Street as the mainstream of the American Jewish community. [emphasis added]
it seems that certain elements of J Street have indeed embraced Goldstone and his report. Upon further inspection of the Goldstone letter, the actual author seems to be Morton H. Halperin [president of the Open Society Institute (OSI)], who serves on the J Street advisory council and is a senior adviser at George Soros’s Open Society Institute.
…Individuals with official ties to J Street are not just embracing the Goldstone report, they are involved in efforts on behalf of Goldstone himself to scuttle opposition to the report in Congress. It’s just another example of the disconnect between J Street’s official positions and the actions of those who are connected to the organization. [emphasis added]
J Street — the self-described pro-Israel, pro-peace lobbying group — facilitated meetings between members of Congress and South African Judge Richard Goldstone, author of a U.N. report that accused the Jewish state of systematic war crimes in its three-week military campaign against Hamas in Gaza.
Ben-Ami told The Washington Times that while “J Street did not host, arrange or facilitate any visit to Washington, D.C., by Judge Richard Goldstone,” but that “J Street staff spoke to colleagues at the organizations coordinating the meetings and, at their behest, reached out to a handful of congressional staff to inquire whether members would be interested in seeing Judge Goldstone.” Ben-Ami reiterated “We believed it to be a good idea for him and for members of Congress to meet personally, but we declined to play a role in hosting, convening or attending any of the meetings.”
When asked later how many congressional offices had been contacted, a J Street staffer told the Times that it was 2 or 3. Mr. Ben-Ami later said he did not remember reaching out to Congress. [emphasis added]
Judge Goldstone said he remembers attending “10 or 12” meetings. J Street co-founder Daniel Levy, who accompanied the judge to several of the parleys, said that the New America Foundation (NAF) — whose Middle East Task Force he co-chairs — had also hosted a lunch with Judge Goldstone for “a group of analysts and Middle East wonks.” The judge, Mr. Levy, and J Street all declined to identify the members of Congress. [emphasis added]
Contrary to J Street, most of the organized American Jewish community, across the spectrum from left to right was critical of the report.
In the end, the House passed a resolution condemning the Goldstone Report by a vote of 344-36. However, J Street said that it was unable to support the resolution as written.
J Street And Betty McCollum’s Military Detention Bill HR 2407
In 2019, Congresswoman Betty McCollum introduced the Promoting Human Rights for Palestinian Children Living Under Israeli Military Occupation Act:
This bill prohibits the use of certain foreign-assistance funds to support the military detention, interrogation, abuse, or ill treatment of children in violation of international humanitarian law. The bill also prohibits such funds from being used to support certain practices against children, including torture, sensory deprivation, solitary confinement, and arbitrary detention.
The bill also authorizes the Department of State to provide funding to nongovernmental organizations to (1) monitor and assess incidents of Palestinian children being subjected to Israeli military detention, and (2) provide treatment and rehabilitation for Palestinians under 21 years of age who have been subject to military detention as children.
NGO Monitor gives the underlying claims of McCollum’s bill a thorough debunking.
But what does J Street think of this bill?
Apparently, J Street is divided over H.R.2407 – according to Bill Harper, McCollum’s chief of staff, there is an internal debate among J Street board members over whether they should support the bill:
McCollum sent a letter to J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami on June 4th  seeking his endorsement of the bill. In a response sent almost two months later, Ben-Ami described his board’s internal deliberations. He wrote that J Street strongly opposes unique standards being applied to Israel, but also believes Israel must adhere to legal requirements placed on all recipients of taxpayer-funded military assistance.
“While our Board of Directors has not yet made a decision on whether to support H.R. 2407, it is seized [sic] of the matter and has instructed our staff to engage in further research and consultations with relevant experts and stakeholders on this legislation and the critical issue it addresses,” Ben-Ami wrote. J Street Communications Director Logan Bayroff confirmed that this continues to be the organization’s position on the bill.
But J Street was not always so hesitant.
H.R. 2407 is the second iteration of McCollum’s bill.
Originally, in November 2017, Congresswoman Betty McCollum introduced the Promoting Human Rights by Ending Israeli Military Detention of Palestinian Children Act (H.R. 4391):
This bill prohibits U.S. assistance to Israel from being used to support the military detention, interrogation, or ill-treatment of Palestinian children in violation of international humanitarian law or the use against Palestinian children of: (1) torture, inhumane, or degrading treatment; (2) physical violence or psychological abuse; (3) incommunicado or administrative detention; (4) solitary confinement; (5) denial of parental or legal access during interrogations; or (6) force or coercion to obtain a confession.
What would account for J Street’s hesitation this time around?
Instead of directing the secretary of state to certify that U.S. aid is not being used by Israel to detain children, as the 2017 version does, the new bill amends U.S. law to explicitly ban U.S. aid from going toward the abuse of children, a move that takes discretion over such a ban out of the hands of the State Department.
But more than that, H.R.2407 amends the Leahy Law that prohibits the US from giving aid and training to either foreign military or individuals who are accused of “gross human rights violations” — and adds a focus on Israel:
McCollum’s bill would make the Leahy Law even more explicit by barring foreign security units from using U.S. aid to carry out the “military detention, interrogation, abuse, or ill-treatment of children.” The bill’s amendment to the Leahy Law would apply to all countries that receive U.S. military aid, but its focus on Israel has made it particularly controversial. [emphasis added]
The potential for cutting aid to Israel concerns not only Democrats in Congress, but J Street as well.
J Street’s endorsement could provide wavering members of Congress enough political cover to back the bill. But J Street is still debating whether to ultimately endorse it. “We haven’t taken a position on this bill yet. We are still looking at the language and researching the very important issue it deals with,” said Logan Bayroff, a spokesperson for J Street.
Advocates for the bill have heard from congressional staffers that J Street is skeptical about using the Leahy Law to bar aid because, in J Street’s eyes, the law should be applied to only the most extreme human rights violations like mass sexual violence, massacres, or ethnic cleansing.
It is not surprising then that J Street has not been lobbying on the issue of H.R. 2407 as it did on H.R. 4391.
But Ben-Ami was the one who bragged to Jeffrey Goldberg “I hope that we have a very strong left flank that attacks us.”
But the increasingly vocal radical left is not impressed by Ben-Ami’s claim to represent the American Jewish mainstream. Instead, just as Ben-Ami once admitted to The New York Times “our no. 1 agenda item is to do whatever we can in Congress to act as the president’s [Obama’s] blocking back,” progressives expect Ben-Ami and J Street to keep moving to the left and provide cover for increased attacks on Israel by Democrats.