Monday, March 18, 2019

Is 'Democratic Majority for Israel' Intended To Clean Up J Street's Mess?

Get the popcorn: J Street is getting some competition.

The Democratic Majority for Israel (DMFI) is a new group, presenting itself as "the pro-Israel voice of Democrats."
How new is DMFI?
So new, that when I did a search by name to find their website -- it showed up at the bottom of the first page of hits -- and that was a paid advertised link.

Here is their introductory video:

According to the Democratic Majority for Israel website, their mission is to:
  • Maintain and Strengthen Support for Israel Among Grassroots Progressives and Democratic Leaders
  • Advance Policies to Ensure a Peaceful and Secure Israel
  • Defend Israel’s Legitimacy
  • Promote a Two-State Solution and Arab-Israeli Peace through Diplomacy and Partnership
  • Encourage American Global Leadership
  • Promote Progressive Values
  • Educate and Support Democratic Leaders
The group even supports the 2 state solution, which leaves the question: what does DMFI aim to do that J Street has not been doing?

Mark Mellman, CEO of Democratic Majority for Israel, and Jeremy Ben-Ami of J Street recently addressed this question with the JTA.

Mellman stated that “a central thrust for us is making sure the Democratic Party remains pro-Israel” at a time when Israel is facing increasing attacks by some within the Democratic party.

screen capture
Mark Mellman, President and CEO, Democratic Majority for Israel. Screen capture from YouTube video

In his response, Jeremy Ben-Ami did not claim to be defending Israel form these attacks. Instead, he charged that the DMFI website lacked substance and asked, "would they have supported the Iran deal, do they support two states, would they support Democrats who want to reinstate funding for UNRWA."

But the group does support the 2 state solution, and as far as the Iran deal goes, Mellman responded that the deal was "old news".

It's hard not to think that to some extent, the apparent need for The Democratic Majority for Israel is an indictment of the failure of J Street.

Gregg Roman, Director of Middle East Forum, wrote in a piece for The Hill already in 2017 about J Street's Dead End:
For eight years J Street supported Obama's destructive policies toward Israel like the unilateral settlement freeze, nuclear détente with Iran, and his allowance for international condemnation of Israeli communities in the West Bank.
Roman goes so far as to say that considering the influence they had during the Obama years, J Street shares some of the responsibility for the failure to get peace talks off the ground during those 8 years.

Last year, David M. Weinberg , vice president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies, went a step further - asking the question: Is J Street Still Pro-Israel?
J Street has become something else altogether: an organization that spends almost all its time and money besmirching Israel, smearing the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and other leading American Jewish organizations, boosting US-Iran relations, and backing political candidates for whom promoting the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement is a badge of honor.
Even granting that J Street endorses Democratic candidates for Congress, as DMFI will do, the question remains: which Democrats has J Street been supporting?

J Street has supported allegedly "pro-Israel" Democrats such as Representative Mark Pocan, who in 2017 anonymously reserved official Capitol Hill space for an anti-Israel forum put together by organizations that support boycotts and Representative Hank Johnson, who referred to Israelis living in Judea and Samaria as 'termites.'

J Street has endorsed Keith Ellison, despite his ties to Farrakhan - and has defended Ellison, claiming that criticism of Ellison was actually "a concerted and transparent smear campaign driven by those whose true objections may be to the Congressman’s religion, strong support for the two-state solution or concern for Palestinian rights."

This past year, J Street endorsed Rashida Tlaib, who
  • supported Palestinian terrorist Rasmea Odeh
  • supported Islamic Relief, which has links to the Muslim Brotherhood.
  • retweeted a post from Linda Sarsour supporting Ahed Tamimi, who was jailed for incitement and assaulting an IDF soldier -- and upon release voiced support for suicide bombing.
    Later, J Street withdraw their endorsement -- but only because Tlaib reneged on her support of J Street's precious 2 state solution.
This problem with J Street goes back to its origins. According to a video they put out in 2018, J Street's beginnings go back to Howard Dean's presidential campaign in 2004, when Ben-Ami defended Dean, who advocated a balanced role for the US that supported both Israel and the Palestinian Arabs:

The video itself uses articles dating back to the last few months of 2003. But an article written by Ron Kampeas for JTA in 2006 paints a different picture, noting the involvement of Soros in the early meetings that year that led to the start of J Street. A meeting in September included, in addition to Morton Halperin, a director of Soros’ Open Society Institute and Ben-Ami, members of Israel Policy Forum, Americans For Peace Now and Brit Tzedek. Those 3 groups are credited with the lobbying efforts at the time that derailed the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act, legislation that would have cut off US aid to the Palestinian Authority unless it renounced terrorism and recognized Israel. One can already see the source of J Street's current agenda. The article noted that a second meeting was scheduled for the following month, but the goals were not clear:
Some participants speak of wrapping together a number of the existing groups at some future date; others speak of a support structure that would back the groups as they continue to operate separately.
But there are hints of other groups secretly supporting The Democratic Majority for Israel as well. J Street claims that it opposes the new group because they see DMFI as an ally of AIPAC and the pro-Israel mainstream, and The Forward quotes an unnamed source that goes one step further, claiming that AIPAC is behind DMFI:
For years, even before this last election, AIPAC has been discussing credibility problems with progressives at the highest level,” a pro-Israel Democrat familiar with AIPAC’s works, who asked not to be named so they could speak freely, told the Forward. “And they have been exploring the possibility of creating a Democratic group that would push AIPAC policy and fight the pro-Israel fight within the Democratic Party. That’s something they’ve been discussing for years.
Out of DMFI's 15 board members, 11 of them have either worked or volunteered for AIPAC, or have donated to it or spoken at its events. Also, the company that made DMFI’s announcement video has a long working relationship with AIPAC, and designed their Policy Conference app. Whether there is any truth to a direct connection between the 2 groups or not, there seem to be forces at work that may be trying to create an anti-J Street, just as J Street was conceived as an anti-AIPAC. 2019 will not be a boring year.
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