JERUSALEM, Israel - In the three years since its founding, the Washington-based lobby, J Street, has billed itself as a pro-Israel, pro-peace advocacy group. But many Israelis question its stance on critical issues facing the Jewish state.
On Wednesday, Deputy Speaker Danny Danon (Likud), chairman of the Knesset's Immigration Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Committee, convened a special meeting to determine whether J Street should be officially designated anti-Israel.
In his opening statement, J Street founder Jeremy Ben-Ami said he and his colleague, David Gilo, had not come to apologize, as called for by Danon, but rather to state their case.
Danon had issued a press statement calling on J Street to "apologize for their treatment of Israel and explain the continued funding…from Arab nations and donors."
"Allow me to be clear, contrary to the press release from the committee chairman this morning, we did not come before this committee to apologize, but to deliver two clear messages: to "reaffirm" J Street's "deep commitment" to the State of Israel and its people, and to "warn of the grave risk" facing Israel if it limits its friends to those "who hold certain political views."
Ben-Ami concluded his lengthy address by saying the Israeli government risked "alienating a significant part of American Jewry" by not accepting J Street and its 170,000-strong American Jewish membership. Click here to read Ben-Ami's speech.
Some of the hearing's participants expressed strong reservations with the group's pro-Israel claims.
Lenny Ben-David, former director of the Israeli branch of AIPAC - American Israeli Policy Action Committee (the largest pro-Israel lobby in the U.S.) - said J Street hides "its real anti-Israel face behind a 'pro-Israel' mask."
"I want to emphasize that in the Zionist world, there is plenty of room for organizations from the left and the right, secular and religious organizations, Jewish and Christian organizations," Ben-David told participants.
"But I have never seen an organization like J Street that hides behind the cover of a pro-Israel organization and works with such furtiveness in the United States in general and in Washington in particular to undermine and hurt the State of Israel," he said.
Ben-David went on to cite J Street's opposition to the U.S. veto of the U.N. Security Council resolution labeling Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria illegal. He also cited J Street's support of divestment from Israel, opposition to a Jewish presence in some Jerusalem neighborhoods, and the gap between the group's statements and its actions that often support the de-legitimization of the Jewish state. Click here to read Ben-David's complete remarks.
Israeli political analyst Caroline Glick, who did not attend the hearing, believes that J Street wants to "wage war against Israel."
"These people don't want peace. They want to wage war against Israel. They support waging economic war against Israel. They view the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] as indistinguishable from Hamas.
"They believe that bad Jews control U.S. foreign policy. They want to force Israel to its knees and coerce it into accepting a Palestinian state that will be in a state of war with Israel and whose borders will render Israel militarily indefensible.
"These are not positions that are conducive to peace. They are positions that are conducive to the destruction of Israel," Glick said on her website. Click here for a YouTube video from J Street 2011 conference posted on CarolineGlick.com.
In January, U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.) disassociated himself with J Street - a contributor to his campaign - after it urged the Obama administration not to veto the U.N. Security Council resolution against Israeli "settlements," Fox News reported.
"I've come to the conclusion that J Street is not an organization with which I wish to be associated," Ackerman said in a press release.
"The decision to endorse the Palestinian and Arab effort to condemn Israel in the U.N. Security Council is not the choice of a concerned friend trying to help," Ackerman said.
"It is rather the befuddled choice of an organization so open-minded about what constitutes support for Israel that its brains have fallen out," he said.