Wrong way criticisms of J Street


I’ve noted in the past (here and here) when I thought J Street was taking unfair swipes at those who take a different view on Israel-related issues.

This time, however, it is J Street that’s getting a bum rap.

When the controversy heated up over President Obama’s decision to honor former U.N. human rights commissioner Mary Robinson, JTA called J Street and other groups that have been defnding the administration’s calls for an Israeli settlement freeze. All of them, including J Street, declined to take a position on Robinson.

But yesterday Noah Pollak put up a post at Commentary’s blog title "J Street hearts Mary Robinson" and AIPAC spokesman Josh Block put up a post to his personal Twitter feed titled "JStreet’s PR agency working to support Mary Robinson."

So what’s the deal?

It turns out that Matt Dorf — the Dorfier half of Rabinowitz/Dorf, the outside communications firm used by J Street — sent an e-mail to several White House reporters noting that "not everyone is critical of President Obama giving the Freedom medal to Mary Robinson"; he attached letters from Nancy Rubin and Ruth Messinger defending Robinson. (Block’s Twitter post links to a copy of Dorf’s e-mail. Click here to read Rubin’s and Messinger’s original letters.)

Dorf, whose firm represents several clients that could conceivably weigh in on the issue, insists that he sent his e-mail out as an unpaid favor that had nothing to do with J Street.

As so often is the case with examples of bloggers/twitterers gone wild… the truth would have been enough: Pollak and Block could have scored plenty of points with plenty of readers simply by noting that J Street was declining to critciize the selection of Robinson or her record at Durban. Why take it one step further by using Dorf’s e-mail to imply unfairly that J Street might  be endorsing Robinson? And if they wanted to know if Dorf was acting on behalf of J Street or someone else, why not just ask the question (as Ed Lasky did)?

Block, who served as a Democratic consultant before coming to AIPAC, stands by his characterization of Dorf’s e-mail as coming from "J Street’s PR agency." Here’s the statement he sent me:

"As I shared with Steve Rabinowitz, Matt Dorf’s business partner at Rabinowitz/Dorf, I simply made Matt’s email supporting Mary Robinson available to people who may have been interested in his views but were not on his blast email list.  Perhaps they should pay me a commission for helping spread their message.  Since Matt Dorf is best know these days as the PR person for that group, it seemed like a completely appropriate and relevant way to identify him.  And if his clients don’t share his support for the person identified by Tom Lantos, Elie Wiesel and countless others for the vile, anti-Israel debacle at Durban, they should say so."

I don’t know … according to this theory, it seems like AIPAC should have to answer for any comment uttered by its outside lawyer, the opinionated Nat Lewin — and we would be OK running with an "AIPAC’s lawyer" headline, even if Lewin made a newsworthy comment in an e-mail that made no mention of AIPAC. [UPDATE: Or … if Block feels AIPAC doesn’t need to answer for his personal Twitter feed because he put up a disclaimer, why is it not enough for Dorf to say he wasn’t speaking for J Street?]

The final twist in all of this: We received a statement from Rabinowitz/Dorf informing us that one of the firm’s clients, Hadassah, was criticizing the Robinson selection.

So maybe I should change the headline of this post to: "J Street’s PR firm sends out message bashing Robinson."

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