January 27, 2020

Don’t Give J Street a Free Pass on Anti-Semitism

Rep. Ilhan Omar Photo from Flickr.

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) has been widely condemned — including by the leaders of her own party — for her recent promotion of anti-Semitic tropes on Jewish control over finances and government.

It’s encouraging to see Democrats put politics aside for a moment and call out anti-Semitism within their ranks. It is time for the Jewish community to hold its fellow Jews accountable when they use the same rhetoric and tactics often deployed by anti-Semites.

You might ask: is it even possible for Jews to traffic in anti-Semitism? The answer can be found in the latest project of J Street, the self-identified “proIsrael, propeace” Jewish lobby group.

New evidence shows how the statements and activities of J Street U, the organization’s campus arm, were seemingly closely coordinated and virtually identical to those of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), which has long been recognized as a leading purveyor of campus anti-Semitism. (For years, we’ve already known that although J Street states that it opposes the anti-Israel BDS movement, J Street U co-sponsors campus events with pro-BDS organizations like SJP).

At the University of Vermont (UVM) this month and on the same day, J Street and SJP each issued statements criticizing UVM Hillel for accepting funding from the Maccabee Task Force (MTF). Both groups falsely accused MTF and Hillel of suppressing “Palestinian voices,” while alleging that MTF-Hillel partnerships create “an unsafe environment” (SJP) and “unnecessary divides” (J Street).

J Street took its attack even further, using anti-Semitic tropes in its attacks on MTF’s primary funder, Jewish philanthropist Sheldon Adelson. J Street U’s national Twitter account described Adelson as MTF’s “bankroller.” On Instagram, J Street U’s UVM chapter replaced the word “truth” with “money” in MTF Executive Director David Brog’s quote, “The truth is on our side.”

The anti-Semitic trope voiced by J Street U’s social media posts is unmistakable. It’s the same canard that Omar promoted when she tweeted that support for Israel in Congress is “all about the Benjamins.” In J Street U’s worldview, support for Israel on campus is also all about the Benjamins — the Benjamins of a Jewish philanthropist, Adelson.

We must call out anti-Semitism whenever and wherever we see it and no matter who the speaker is. Groups like J Street U that claim to represent the interests of the Jewish community cannot get a free pass for crossing the line from legitimate criticism to slander and anti-Semitism.

Ultimately, the haters will hate, and we can’t censor them. But it all comes down to how we respond. In the U.K., eight Labour members recently quit the party over the culture of anti-Semitism perpetuated by its leader, Jeremy Corbyn. That’s what standing up to anti-Semitism looks like. It’s also what meaningful self-reflection looks like — understanding that a plague exists within your own ranks and that you have no other option but to completely dissociate yourself from it.  

Following the example of those eight Labour members, Democratic leaders in the U.S. should stand up to anti-Semitism by removing Omar from her position on the House Foreign Relations Committee.

When it comes to J Street’s anti-Semitic activity on social media, the absolute minimum standard we should expect from fellow Jewish communal organizations and activists (including progressive ones) is to disavow the lobby group once and for all.

Why does J Street feel the need to attack Adelson, a fellow Jewish activist whose philanthropy includes funding young people’s trips to Israel, cancer research and Israel’s first mission to the moon? Why is accepting donations from Adelson any different than the funding J Street receives from George Soros?

The same progressives, who absurdly came to the defense of Soros when he was criticized about his funding of the BDS movement, should likewise condemn the calling out of Adelson.  

It was already clear that J Street isn’t the “pro-Israel” organization that it claims to be. Now, by trafficking in tropes on Jews and financial control, J Street’s rhetoric has crossed the line from anti-Israel to anti-Semitic.

Let’s not give J Street a free pass for it.

Brooke Goldstein is the Executive Director of The Lawfare Project.