Friday, July 30, 2010

NJDC sides/sided with J Street over ECI


SECOND UPDATE: NJDC's David Harris calls me back to rescind his words about J Street's bipartisan nature. See bottom of post.

UPDATED with response from J Street at bottom.

The controversial new pro-Israel outfit, Emergency Committee for Israel "is playing with fire," says David Harris, president and CEO of the National Jewish Democratic Council, which recently released a "fact sheet" aimed at exposing what it says are ECI's "dangerous" smear tactics.

ECI - founded earlier this month by neoconservatives and evangelical Christians - has been warring with J Street over the Pennsylvania Senate race, and both groups have sought to gain the upper hand by placing Israel front and center. However, ECI, says Harris, has gone too far in its attacks on Democratic Rep. Joe Sestak.

"They're using Israel solely as a partisan wedge issue and they're employing tactics that have been decried by the organized Jewish community and the government of Israel - and those are the facts."

But isn't J Street also guilty of using Israel as a wedge issue in the race?

Harris disagrees.

"J Street and other groups are bi-partisan in their approach, first of all," he explained. "This range of Jewish community organizations traffics in facts, and they represent the mainstream of views within the American Jewish community, although individual Jew are free to disagree with them."

Some observers, however, thought the NJDC's fact sheet went a bit too far. Similar criticism, they said, should be leveled against J Street -- which hasn't exactly been mum about its liberal trending political views.

Said one Jewish Democrat active in the pro-Israel community: "When I saw the fact sheet, I was struck by the fact that most of the attacks [NJDC] made against ECI were equally applicable to J Street. There's no question J Street has politicized the issue of support for Israel in a way that's unhelpful to the U.S.Israel relationship."

The source, who wasn't authorized to speak on the record, said the fact sheet was a blindly partisan document. "It's striking that NJDC can only look to their right when waging this attack and not to the left. ECI and J Street are clearly both outside the mainstream Democratic party, and as a consensus organization, I'd think NJDC would find equal fault in these two groups when it comes [to politicizing] Israel."

Michael Goldfarb, a spokesperson for ECI, said the NJDC is making itself look ridiculous as it seeks to score political points.

"I was puzzled to see what is explicitly a partisan organization coming after a non partisan pro-Israel group," Goldfarb said. "If NJDC is concerned about the proliferation of pro-Israel groups than I don't quite understand what their mission is. Maybe I'm confused."

Goldfarb also took issue with a portion of the NJDC's fact sheet that states: "Israel's Ambassador to the United States Michael B. Oren has expressed deep concern over the increasing use of support for Israel as a partisan issue in American domestic politics."

Oren's statement, Goldfarb maintains, actually came in response to J Street's ongoing politicization of Israel, and was made before ECI even existed. (In December, Oren found himself in hot water after publicly calling J Street "a unique problem," and saying the group is "significantly out of the mainstream." He apologized, and has since been on better terms with the group.)

NJDC's Harris says Goldfarb is wrong.

The fact sheet references a May 4 meeting in which Oren generally stated his concern that support for Israel is increasingly being used as a partisan weapon.

Misinformation, added Harris, is exactly why NJDC issued a fact sheet.

ECI's "irresponsible tactics work," he said. "taking out negative, patently false ads that threaten to shatter bi-partisan consensus on the U.S.-Israel relationship works. It's effective."

UPDATE: Jeremy Ben Ami, J Street's founder, responded to this blog with a statement about his group's "non-partisan" approach.

J Street's purpose is clear and non-partisan: to advance a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that brings peace and security to Israel and its neighbors," he said in a statement to me. "Attempts by Republican political operatives to shift elections toward candidates they support but who have poor records on Israel like Pat Toomey are transparent and bound to backfire.

Upon Learning of Ben-Ami's partisan pot shot, Harris immediately responded: "NJDC would not label a candidate like Pat Toomey as having 'a poor record on Israel.' We think it is destructive to the bipartisan nature of the U.S.-Israel relationship to tear down those who are Israel supporters, whether from the left or from the right."

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