Unpacking J Street-Ros Lehtinen-Moskowitz


So, like an IM exchange, I’ll work this one from the top down.

I just got copied in on a letter from Jack Rosen, former American Jewish Congress boss, currently president of the American Council on World Jewry, to Jeremy Ben Ami, director of J Street. Here it is:

Dear Mr. Ben-Ami:

I read with great concern about your grassroots campaign against Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, asking your supporters to demand she return campaign funds donated by a supporter of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

It is entirely appropriate for advocacy groups such as yours to lobby and conduct public efforts to convince Members of Congress of their position on domestic and foreign policy. You may even disagree publicly with policies and actions of the Israeli Government and Israeli citizens. But you have failed to demonstrate that Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen acted inappropriately in accepting donations from a U.S. citizen who happens to support Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

I have no problem if you address the Congresswoman and her supporters on settlements or any other policy issue. However, it is reckless and misleading for you to question the financing of her re-election campaign on this basis. Your irresponsible initiative comes just as Americans are reconsidering the tenor of our national debate, and leaders of the Jewish community should be leading others away from demonizing of our political opponents.

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, still in her first days as the new Chairwoman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, has proven one of the most consistent and vocal supporters of Israel. You may choose to disagree with her over policies, but you have no moral right to challenge her ethics and those of your fellow American Jews.

I urge J Street to reconsider its campaign against a true friend of Israel, and to limit your advocacy to the issues instead of character assassination.

Okay, first then, the problem with Rosen’s letter: No where no how does J Street challenge the ethics of Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), the chairwoman of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee. The attempt to link J Street to the recent civility brouhaha is utterly specious. In fact — contra Rosen — J Street’s campaign seems strictly focused on policy.

So now, here’s J Street, and then I get to take them to the woodshed (what fun it is to be a blogger!):

The new Chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen seems to see nothing wrong with taking large campaign contributions from Irving Moskowitz, a notorious funder of settlements in East Jerusalem’s Palestinian neighborhoods.

Moskowitz actively works to derail the chances for a two-state solution by funding Jewish settler housing in the middle of Palestinian neighborhoods – and has been condemned by both Republican and Democratic US Administrations for undermining the prospects of peace.

With the two-state solution hanging by a thread, what a terrible signal it sends for an American political leader to be so cozy with a far-right political funder whose actions undermine the foreign policy of the United States and makes a two-state solution harder to achieve.

So what J Street is asking is, properly, about policy: Support for the two state solution and opposition to building in the Arab neighborhoods in eastern Jerusalem. Nothing in the above insinuates that accepting Moskowitz’ money is unethical, unless taking money from folks with whom you don’t agree is unethical, in which case, I anticipate 535 resignations forthcoming from the Hill.

Donors, properly, give to candidates who are closest to their views, not to those who slavishly adhere to them. Candidates, properly, accept this money with the understanding that the donor is not dictating terms, only advancing shared interests. Interests on the other side — in this case J Street — properly organize campaigns to remind the candidate that the donor holds views that may be embarrassing to the candidate.

So, one could conceive of a scenario in which Moskowitz, who isn’t a fan of a two-state solution, gives to Ros-Lehtinen, despite her stated bias for a two-state solution, because she ascribes to tougher standards for the Palestinians. The better of two evils, from his perspective. And she properly accepts the money because, while they don’t agree on outcomes, Ros-Lehtinen and Moskowitz share a skepticism of Palestinian intentions. And then J Street could properly argue that Moskowitz is so removed from Ros-Lehtinen’s ideology that her supporters should call on her to rend asunder her association with Moskowitz.

Except — and this is where the J Street campaign falls down — Ros-Lehtinen has no such stated bias for two states. Nor does she oppose building in Arab neighborhoods, as far as I know.

As far as I know. She’s never actually said.

J Street’s campaign would be more effective if it cornered Ros-Lehtinen: Does she ascribe to Moskowitz’s views? Instead of asking her to return his money, it could press her to make clear what she thinks of the building in eastern Jerusalem. Is she on the side of the administration (and incidentally, all of its predescessors, Republican and Democrat) in believing it is unehlpful? Or does she think Jews have a right to make inroads into Silwan, Sheik Jarrah, whatever the consequences? Will she go on record backing two states?

All these are questions pertaining to Ros-Lehtinen’s chairmanship of a hugely influential committee.

Interestingly, J Street’s Hadar Susskind almost gets to these questions — but only when pressed by Adam Kredo at the Washington Jewish Week, who asked the group if J Street was in a position to complain about Ros-Lehtinen’s donations when it took money from mysterious benefactors in Hong Kong:

J Street is not the foreign affairs chair. … She has a different standard than anyone else.

Almost gets to it. It’s less a matter of Ros-Lehtinen’s standard than her influence and power: Does the chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs committee support two states? Does she back building in Arab neighborhoods? Because she’s in a position to do something about her beliefs. And her constituents and donors deserve to know what they are.

UPDATE: J Street staffers tell me their petition, indeed, asks Ros-Lehtinen to clarify her position on two states. (I didn’t click the petition link embedded in the above link  to the statement when I was looking it up because the set-up seemed to require me to sign the thing before I saw it, which I was not prepared to do, for so many reasons.) Good for them, but this makes the demand that she return Moskowitz’s cash even more gratuitous: What if it turns out she agrees with Moskowitz?

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