Briefs: Pro-Israel doves launch D.C. lobbying effort, Carter — in Israel — calls Sderot attacks ‘

Pro-Israel Doves Launch D.C. Outfit

J Street promo video

Pro-Israel doves are launching an initiative aimed at countering the influence of established Jewish organizations on Capitol Hill. In a conference call Tuesday, organizers announced the launch of J Street, a lobby outfit and a political action committee backed by some of the biggest names in the dovish pro-Israel community.

The new group’s executive director, Jeremy Ben-Ami, says the goal is to take on the pro-Israel giants, particularly the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), where they are the most powerful: in Congress.

Ben-Ami says the new lobby will work the halls on Capitol Hill, where he asserts the majority of lawmakers are sympathetic to the pro-Israel, pro-peace position and doing more to support Palestinian moderates, but afraid of the political consequences of speaking out.

The group is ready to go with a projected annual budget of $1.5 million, about half of which is on hand, and a staff of four. That’s a fraction of the nearly $50 million AIPAC spends — and that doesn’t even include the totals from AIPAC’s recent legacy fundraising program.

Carter in Sderot: Attacks Are ‘Despicable’

Jimmy Carter, during a visit to Sderot, called Palestinian rocket attacks on civilians a “despicable crime.”

“I think it’s a despicable crime for any deliberate effort to be made to kill innocent civilians, and my hope is there will be a cease fire soon,” Carter told reporters Monday in the beleaguered southern Israeli town on the Gaza Strip border.

The former U.S. president is in Israel as part of a Middle East tour. On Sunday, his first day in the Jewish state, Carter met with President Shimon Peres, who told his fellow Nobel Peace Prize winner that he has damaged Israel and the peace process. Carter has been sharply critical of Israel on its Middle East stance, notably in his recent book “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.”

During the meeting, Peres also criticized Carter’s decision to meet later in the week with the exiled leader of Hamas. Leaders in Washington and Jerusalem reacted with outrage last week to reports that Carter planned to meet with Khaled Meshaal, who lives in Damascus.

Carter has defended his controversial decision to meet Meshaal while in Syria.

“It’s very important that at least someone meet with the Hamas leaders to express their views, to ascertain what flexibility they have, to try to induce them to stop all attacks against innocent civilians in Israel and to cooperate with the Fatah as a group that unites the Palestinians,” Carter said in an exclusive interview with George Stephanopoulos on “This Week” on ABC aired Sunday morning.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni both declined to meet Carter, citing “scheduling conflicts.” Ha’aretz reported Monday that Israel’s Shin Bet security service has declined to assist Carter during his visit, calling it an “unprecedented” breach between the Shin Bet and the U.S. Secret Service.

Obama Launches Hebrew Blog

Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama has launched a Hebrew-language blog. In a post on the blog, Obama’s Middle East policy advisor, Eric Lynn, says the blog aims to inform Israelis of the candidate’s desire to strengthen the U.S.-Israel relationship.

The blog was launched Friday with a Hebrew translation of Obama’s speech last year to the annual policy conference of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee. Obama’s campaign has labored intensively to counter sentiment in the Jewish community that the candidate is insufficiently strong on Israel.

The blog can be accessed at

Birthright Receiving $17.5 Million Grant

The Jim Joseph Foundation is giving $17.5 million to the Birthright Israel Foundation. Much of the gift, $12.5 million, will be used for programming for alumni, Birthright announced Monday. The remaining $5 million will go to support the free 10-day trips to Israel for 18- to 25-year-old Jews.

It was the largest gift by the Joseph foundation since it started making grants last year. Birthright has sent some 160,000 Jews to Israel since the program started in 2000, but considerable debate has focused on how effective the trips are in terms of building Jewish identity because there is little follow-up programming for participants.

In a news release, the Birthright Israel Foundation said the $12.5 million matching grant will be used to create peer communities for Birthright alumni through Birthright Israel NEXT, which will train young adults to help create 15 communities in areas with high concentrations of birthright alumni. The program, which will cost $25 million, also will offer programming and opportunities for Jewish involvement.

“Rather than feeling lost in a large Jewish community made up of organizations that are not typically tailored to their needs, Taglit-Birthright Israel alumni will now be empowered by small peer-based communities that fit with their lifestyles,” said Susie Gelman, the chairwoman of the Birthright Israel Foundation. “In these communities, the strong connections to Israel that are sparked on the 10-day trip can be sustained and amplified.”

Birthright estimates that 110,000 of its alumni are from North America.

Shin Bet Online in English, Arabic

Long a shadowy spy service, the Shin Bet, Israel Security Agency, has been slowly getting a public face thanks to its Web site (

In an apparent bid to boost recruitment from civilian hi-tech firms, the Web site instituted blogs by four of its computer staff earlier this year. As of this week, the site also has translations of some of its pages in English and Arabic.

While Arabic could help the Shin Bet find spies from among the Palestinians, its main area of operations, the English pages do not contain job information and appear to be aimed more at improving the service’s international image by explaining its operations.

Frogs’ Legs Hop to Israel

Frogs’ legs are now available to eat in Israel. Tiv Tam, a leading Israeli importer, announced this week it has begun bringing in small quantities of the non-kosher French delicacy for a handful of gourmet restaurants in the Jewish state.

According to Yediot Achronot, one eatery, Chloelys in Ramat Gan, offers an appetizer of three pairs of frog’s legs or an entree of six. Price is by weight — around $15 per 100 grams.

“People are excited about us having frog’s legs,” Chloelys chef Victor Gluger told the newspaper. “But when the waiter asks if they’d like to order them, a lot of people get put off and say, ‘not today.'”

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.