We’ve done a short e-mail interview with Jeremy Ben-Ami, the founder (along with Daniel Levy) of “J Street,” the new dovish Israel lobby and its political action committee, “JStreetPAC.” The following are our questions and Jeremy Ben-Ami’s answers in full:
Question: Perhaps a year ago, when stories or rumors started circulating of a new liberal Israel lobby, it was thought to be associated with George Soros. What (if anything) can you say about the role of Soros in your efforts?
Ben-Ami: George Soros is not involved in or funding J Street. J Street is the outgrowth of 18 months of planning and discussion among pro-Israel, pro-peace activists about how best to establish a new political voice on these issues. Some of those discussions did involve Mr. Soros, as was reported at the time. As Mr. Soros himself wrote in the New York Review of Books, he decided that his personal involvement in the launch of such an effort would, on balance, not help the effort so he decided to step out of the discussions.
Question: Wasn’t your initial strategy for a two or three-way merger among the Israel Policy Forum, Americans for Peace Now and Brit Tzedek V’Shalom? What happened? How do you see your organization dovetailing, cooperating or coexisting with these groups now?
Ben-Ami: J Street is a political effort consisting of a PAC and a 501(c)(4) lobby. The existing pro-Israel, pro-peace groups are 501(c)(3) organizations and cannot organizationally be part of such an effort. However, as individuals and outside of their roles with those organizations, the leaders of all three organizations as well as of Meretz USA, Ameinu, New Israel Fund and other progressive Jewish organizations are members of the Advisory Council for J Street. We are very pleased at the broad support for the creation of J Street among progressive activists on this issue and their recognition that a unified political voice and arm will be an important complement to the work of the existing groups.
Question: In light of the writings of Mearsheimer and Walt on AIPAC and the “Israel Lobby,” what would you like to say to progressive Americans about the purpose of your group and how this would impact the political scene?
Ben-Ami: For too long, the loudest voices in the American political and national policy debates when it comes to Israel and the Middle East have belonged to the far right – neoconservatives, right wing American Jewish leaders, and right wing Christian Zionists. These voices do not represent the mainstream of the American Jewish community or reflect its values. J Street will provide the first political voice for progressives on Israel. For the first time, candidates for political office and current office holders will know that there is organized support for sensible, mainstream positions on Israel and the Middle East – backing a two-state solution, opposing further settlement expansion, pursuing diplomatic opportunities to resolve conflicts rather than immediate resort to military options. These aren’t actually left or right positions; they are sensible, smart ways to be pro-Israel and to remain true to the values that the American Jewish community has always promoted of justice and peace for all.