Founded in April 2008, the Washington, DC-based J Street describes itself deceptively as “the political arm of the pro-Israel, pro-peace movement.” The “J” in the organization’s name connotes, in part, its predominantly Jewish character. The name is significant also because no J Street exists among Washington’s alphabetically named streets—but if it did exist, it would run parallel to K Street, which is famous for the lobbyists and advocacy groups that base their activities there.
J Street, which sees itself as a counterweight to AIPAC, consists of both an advocacy group that seeks to influence public opinion and foreign policy, and a political action committee (PAC) that donates money to various causes.
J Street was founded “to promote meaningful American leadership to end the Arab-Israeli and Palestinian-Israel conflicts peacefully and diplomatically.” Key to this, says J Street, will be the pursuit of “a new direction for American policy in the Middle East,” a direction that recognizes “the right of the Palestinians to a sovereign state of their own”—where Palestine and Israel live “side-by-side in peace and security.” “In the 21st century,” J Street affirms, “we have reached a moment in history where supporting a Palestinian state is the only way to ensure Israel’s survival as a democracy and a national home for the Jewish people.” Toward this end, J Street supports “diplomatic solutions over military ones” and “dialogue over confrontation.” Israel’s partner in such a dialogue would necessarily be Hamas, which holds the reins of political power in Gaza and denies Israel’s right to exist.
J Street believes that Israel must agree to return, more or less, to the June 4, 1967 boundaries that existed prior to the Six Day War in which the Israeli military defeated several Arab armies that were preparing to invade the Jewish state. Says J Street: “We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states. The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their full potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state.”
J Street also supports the division of the holy city, Jerusalem, saying: “Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem would fall under Israeli sovereignty and the Arab neighborhoods would be under Palestinian sovereignty.” This would mean that many historical and religious Jewish sites would come under Palestinian control.
Though J Street has criticized the tactics of the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, the organization explicitly agrees with the movement's underlying premises about the Jewish state's alleged oppression of the Palestinian people. Indeed, J Street traces the Mideast conflict chiefly to the notion that “Israel’s settlements in the occupied territories have, for over forty years, been an obstacle to peace.” Adds J Street:
“Continued settlement growth undermines the prospects for peace by making Palestinians doubt Israeli motives and commitment, and by complicating the territorial compromises that will be necessary in final status talks. The arrangements that have been made for the benefit of settlers and for security—checkpoints, settler-only roads, and the route of the security barrier—have all made daily life more difficult for Palestinians, deepening hostility and increasing the odds of violence and conflict.”
During the 2008-09 conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, J Street acknowledged that "Israel has the right and obligation to defend its citizens from short and long-term threats, such as [the Hamas] rocket attacks" which had been launched at Israel in large numbers. But the organization also warned that Israel’s choice to “escalat[e] the conflict” inevitably “will prove counter-productive and only deepen the cycle of violence in the region.” “[I]n the end,” J Street said, “the only way to truly halt rocket fire into southern Israel is a diplomatic solution.”
Moreover, J Street cautioned against Israeli efforts to topple Hamas, on grounds that the latter “has been the government, law and order, and service provider since it won the [Palestinian] elections in January 2006 and especially since June 2007 when it took complete control.”
In the 2008 U.S. election cycle, J Street’s PAC officially endorsed 41 congressional candidates, 39 of whom were Democrats. All told, the PAC distributed $578,812 to their campaigns. Among the more notable candidates to win J Street’s support were several members of the Democratic Party’s socialist wing, the Progressive Caucus. Those members included Representatives Michael Capuano, Steve Cohen, Keith Ellison, Bob Filner, Barney Frank, Maurice Hinchey, George Miller, Charles Rangel, Jan Schakowsky, Hilda Solis, and Robert Wexler.
J Street proudly declares that it works “united with other organizations in the pro-Israel, pro-peace community,” citing specifically:
Billionaire philanthropist George Soros supported J Street’s creation and was formally associated with the organization for a brief time after its inception. Before long, however, Soros stepped away from the group—at least in terms of his public association with it—for fear that his controversial reputation might scare off other potential supporters. But behind the scenes, he remained a powerful influence. From 2008-2010, the billionaire and his two children—Jonathan and Andrea—gave a total of $750,000 to the organization. J Street kept this Soros funding secret from the public until the Washington Times revealed it in September 2010.
J Street’s Advisory Council includes a number of individuals with close ties to Soros. Among them, as of March 2011, were the following:
Other notable members of the J Street Advisory Council, as of March 2011, were:
J Street president and co-founder Jeremy Ben-Ami has close ties to President Barack Obama; was previously senior vice president at Fenton Communications; served as communications director for the New Israel Fund; was a domestic policy adviser for President Bill Clinton; and was a policy director on Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential campaign.
J Street identifies Avram Burg as one of its leading supporters. Burg says that “Israel, having ceased to care about the children of the Palestinians, should not be surprised when they [suicide bombers] come washed in hatred and blow themselves up in the centres of Israeli escapism.” He also likens modern-day Israel to Nazi Germany.
In October 2009 President Barack Obama, highly supportive of J Street, sent National Security Adviser James Jones to give the keynote address at a J Street conference.
In December 2009 Michael Oren, Israeli ambassador to the United States, said that J Street “not only opposes one policy of one Israeli government, it opposes all policies of all Israeli governments.” In addition, Oren noted that the group opposed sanctions against Iran, whose president (Mahmoud Ahmadinejad) had repeatedly and unequivocally expressed his desire to obliterate the State of Israel.
J Street chose not to reject the UN’s Goldstone Report (authored by Richard Goldstone), which asserted that Israel had committed war crimes during its 2008-09 Gaza campaign against Hamas. Indeed, J Street staffers actively promoted Goldstone's meetings with members of Congress. Moreover, the organization backed the crusade to delegitimize Israel by the UN's "Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People."
In March 2011, journalist Elliot Jager noted that "J Street since its founding has opposed every measure Israel has taken to defend its citizens," including the construction of the West Bank security barrier; the military response to Hamas's bombardment of the Negev; and the interception of the Turkish flotilla led by the Free Gaza Movement in May 2010. Said Jager: [O]ne is hard put to discern any policy differences whatsoever between the stated positions of J Street and the Palestinian Authority or the PLO.... Both oppose Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state."
At a J Street plenary session in early 2011, co-founder Daniel Levy, discussing the U.S. policy implications of the recent uprisings that had swept the Middle East and had brought down the regimes of Egypt and Tunisia, said:
"[I]f we’re all wrong and a collective Jewish presence in the Middle East can only survive by the sword, it cannot be accepted, it’s not about what we do.... They [Muslims] hate us for what we are, not what we do. If that’s true, then Israel really ain’t a very good idea."
In July 2011, journalist Aaron Klein reported that according to Palestinian Authority (PA) officials, J Street had been aiding the PA in its bid to unilaterally declare a Palestinian state at the United Nations. Wrote Klein: "The officials said J Street has been helping the PA to set up Capital Hill meetings with mostly Democratic lawmakers in a search for diplomatic support for their UN statehood move."
J Street believes that negotiation, not military action, would be the most effective means by which the U.S. could prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. To help promote this view more widely, in November 2011 the Ploughshares Fund gave J Street $25,000 “to support congressional advocacy and education against the use of a military resolution to the impasse over Iran’s nuclear program.” In January 2012, J Street released a web video and policy campaign that counseled against the use of military force against Iran.
J Street has close ties to the Arab American Institute.
In July 2012, IsraelNationalNews.com enumerated several vital facts reflecting J Street's consistently anti-Israel posture. These included the following:
In March 2012, Obama advisor Valerie Jarrett was a major presenter at J Street’s 3rd annual conference. In September 2013, Vice President Joe Biden was the keynote speaker at the organization's 4th annual conference.
In October 2013, Knesset Member Ayelet Shaked said the following about J Street:
"J Street has taken upon itself the role of Israel's loudest critic. Among its actions are the leading of a media campaign against the placing of sanctions on Iran by the U.S. Congress; denunciation of the Cast Lead operation and its definition as 'an illegitimate and even criminal operation'; defining the takeover of the [Free Gaza Movement's ship, Mavi] Marmara, as 'brutal and cruel'; support for the U.S. administration's demand to freeze construction in Jerusalem; pressure on the U.S. administration not to veto the proposal by the Palestinian Authority to denounce Israel for construction in Judea and Samaria and more."