Friday, September 24, 2010

J Street Exposed

Michael Goldfarb
September 24, 2010 2:32 PM

Note: Always follow the money!

The self-described “pro-Israel, pro-peace” J Street has always insisted that its funding comes entirely from Americans, and largely from American Jews. The group has also made a point of knocking down speculation that it takes money from liberal financier George Soros, who has never been particularly supportive of the State of Israel.

In the past, J Street chief Jeremy Ben-Ami has told journalists that Soros had no role in the organization other than participating in one early meeting. Per the AP in 2009, “Ben-Ami says liberal philanthropist George Soros attended a 2006 meeting where ideas for such a group were discussed but bowed out immediately, worried his involvement would draw criticism.” The Myth vs. Fact section of the J Street website makes clear that "George Soros very publicly stated his decision not to be engaged in J Street when it was launched — precisely out of fear that his involvement would be used against the organization." An just six months ago, Ben-Ami told Moment Magazine, “We got tagged as having his support, without the benefit of actually getting funded!”

It turns out that J Street was straight out lying. Eli Lake reports today that J Street has in fact taken at some $750,000 from Soros over a three year period. Soros had been a major donor to the group since day one, and Ben-Ami had obviously been confident that would remain confidential information otherwise he, presumably, wouldn’t have lied so brazenly.

Moreover, as Lake reports, “Nearly half of J Street's revenue during the timeframe — a total of $811,697 — however, came from a single donor in Happy Valley, Hong Kong, named Consolacion Esdicul.”

Lake reports:

"She is trying to make the Middle East a Happy Valley," Mr. Ben Ami said. "She is a business associate of Bill Benter and Bill solicited her for the contribution." Happy Valley is a Hong Kong suburb.

President Obama and the White House have expressed concerns about untraced foreign influence on the U.S. political system through donations to tax-exempt "501(c)(4)" nonprofit organizations in recent months.

J Street is a 501(c)(4) organization that is allowed to remain tax-exempt as long its political activities are not the primary purpose of the group. J Street also has formed a political action committee, or PAC, the standard way for interest groups, corporations and labor unions to contribute directly to political candidates and parties.

Mr. Ben Ami said he agreed with Mr. Obama "about the need for overall reform of the influence of money in our system. But 501(c)(4)s are allowed to accept money from foreign nationals."

So as Obama is off crusading against the imagined threat of conservative foreign-funded third-party groups, here’s J Street, with its close ties to the administration, caught red-handed. Again, from the J Street website:

J Street receives no funding from any foreign government or agent - Arab or otherwise. J Street has no formal association with any other organizations - Arab or other.

Nearly all of J Street's funding comes from Jewish Americans who seek peace and security for Israel and the whole Middle East. A small percentage of J Street's funding comes from non-Jewish Americans who share our desire for peace and security for all people in the Middle East and support the right of the Jewish people to a secure and democratic home in Israel.

Nearly half of J Street’s operating budget comes from a foreign national, but the group represents itself as being funded almost entirely by American Jews and by a few non-Jewish Americans – with “no funding from any foreign government or agent.” It’s all lies!

Of course, this funding would normally be shielded from disclosure but was, either through some lapse by J Street or the IRS (and it’s not clear which), somehow made public. J Street’s response was to try and get ahead of the story by dumping it in the lap of an unsuspecting reporter as evidence of their fundraising success. But they even screwed that up. Minutes after Lake’s story was published, Atlantic reporter Chris Good put up a post titled “Raising More Money, J Street Discloses Big Donors.” “In an interview with The Atlantic,” Good said, “Ben-Ami discussed J Street's fundraising momentum and who the group's biggest donors are, including nonpublicized funding for the group's 501(c)4 nonprofit.”

Thankfully for J Street, there’s one born every minute.

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