Jeremy Ben-Ami of J Street clarifies ‘Israel-Firster’ comment


Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of J Street, released a statement where he sought to clarify his comments in a Washington Post article reporting on accusations that staffers from the Center for American Progress used anti-Semitic and anti-Israel language to attack pro-Israel activists.

In The Washington Post article, Ben-Ami was quoted saying that he had "no problem" with the term "Israel-Firster" and emphasized that it is "a legitimate question" if an individual was "putting the interests of another country before the interests of the United States."

In his new statement, Ben-Ami said that "the use of the term ‘Israel Firster’ is a bad choice of words. The conspiracy theory that American Jews have dual loyalty is just that, a conspiracy theory and must be refuted in the strongest possible way."

However, Ben-Ami went further in the statement to say that the incident with the Center for American Progress was "a perfect example of a more pressing problem with the way the debate plays out over Israel in the American Jewish community and in American politics."

He added that the real question should be "how best to achieve a two-state solution and how to prevent Iran from attaining a nuclear weapon without going to war."

In response to the statement, Josh Block, former AIPAC spokesman and longtime Democrat, told me that "now we know exactly what Jeremy Ben Ami meant when he said that J Street was working to broaden the debate on these issues and redefine the meaning of ‘pro-Israel.’"

In addition, Block noted that "those who use or rationalize and align themselves with people who use terms like ‘Israel-firster’ or ‘Likudnik’, or who suggest it is legitimate to question the loyalty of American Jews as Ben Ami has, are truly debased, accusing those with whom they disagree of treasonous, foreign motives and then crying foul when people object. That is truly vile."

UPDATE: At the end of my post, I included a quote from Josh Block, the former spokesman of AIPAC in response to a statement put out by Jeremy Ben-Ami on the use of the term "Israel-Firster." Block, a lead initiator of the campaign against CAP, has been the focus of the ire of defenders of the liberal think tank. His role in the matter led one group, the Truman National Security Project, to remove him as a fellow, citing what they called his "uncivil discourse."

Jessica Rosenblum, Director of Media Relations for J Street, sent me a comment to respond to Block’s quote.

Rosenblum emphasized that "it is time for not only the Washington policy establishment but the organized American Jewish community to say we have simply had enough with this style of attack politics and slander when it comes to Israel. The days when people are afraid to openly criticize Israeli government policy-or frankly to question American foreign policy-need to end."

Rosenblum added that "if the politics of the United States on this issue are preventing the thoughtful crafting of American policy, we’re going to say so. If the policies being pursued by the government of Israel seem counterproductive, we’re going to say so. And we’re going to say so because we are deeply invested in Israel’s future as democratic homeland of the Jewish people."

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