On Monday morning, the self-described “pro-Israel, pro-peace” progressive lobbying group J Street held its training sessions for activists at its 10th-anniversary conference in the nation’s capital. Attendees were given a lobbying agenda that includes a laundry list of demands aimed at Israel and none aimed at the Palestinians, whose representative in Washington they will welcome later in the day.
The two most specific requests that J Street attendees will make when they go to Capitol Hill are for members of Congress to sign a pair of letters: one for House members calling on the Israeli government not to evacuate a disputed Palestinian village; and the other for senators, urging Israel to alleviate what it calls “the humanitarian crisis in Gaza,” and for the Trump administration to reinstate funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).
J Street also asks senators to oppose the nomination of U.S. Secretary of State-designate Mike Pompeo, and for members of both houses to “serve as a check on Trump’s foreign policy.” Without providing specifics, they call for “limiting the existing authorizations for the president’s use of military force,” “making clear the president must get Congress’s approval for new military actions” and “changing U.S. sanctions law to prevent the president from breaking the Iran deal.”
Last week, J Street announced that it had joined a letter signed by a number of left-wing and anti-Israel groups, including, Jewish Voice for Peace, CODEPINK and the Council on American Islamic Relations. The lobbying talking points distributed this morning mirror the language of that letter, including accusing the CIA director of being hostile to diplomacy and having a “disqualifying record” of anti-Muslim statements.
Despite promoting a letter calling for an easing of the situation in Gaza, the talking points only mention Hamas, the terror organization that governs the coastal enclave, just once: “Desperation and despair in Gaza benefit extremists like Hamas who stoke violence.” Israel, which completely withdrew from Gaza in 2005, and many mainstream pro-Israel organizations contend that the responsibility for conditions in Gaza are due to Hamas’s ongoing rocket fire, as well as its attempts to tunnel into Israel to kidnap and kill Jewish civilians.
The Senate letter, authored by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, quotes a report from controversial leftist organizations B’tselem and Oxfam. In its call for restoring UNRWA funding, it does not address concerns by a bipartisan contingent of lawmakers that the U.N. agency employs known terrorists and allows its facilities to be used by terror organizations.
The talking points further mention a number of events that J Street believes should concern members of Congress, including the recent Hamas-initiated violence on the Gaza-Israel border, the upcoming moving of the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem (which J Street opposes) and approaching deadlines for the Iran nuclear deal.
But J Street’s agenda seemed likely to receive a chilly reception on Capitol Hill.
“2015 called. They want Obama’s talking points back,” a senior congressional foreign-policy adviser told the Haym Salomon Center.
“The amazing thing is just how tired and debunked this agenda sounds,” said the adviser. “No wonder no one in Congress takes J Street seriously.”
Jonathan Greenberg is an ordained reform rabbi, and senior vice president of the news and public-policy group Haym Salomon Center. Follow him @JGreenbergSez.