Joel Mowbray reports: J-Street defends the indefensible

Our occasional correspondent Joel Mowbray ([email protected]) reports:

J-Street suffered a humiliating defeat yesterday on Capitol Hill — which means Israel scored an important victory.
The George Soros-funded “pro-Israel” group inexplicably mobilized its machinery to oppose a bipartisan letter that merely called on President Obama to pressure the Palestinian Authority to end its longstanding practice of inciting its people to commit terrorism against the Jewish state.
Even in a town where tin-eared stupidity is commonplace, essentially protecting the PA’s ability to encourage violence against its Jewish neighbors is jaw-dropping.
The straightforward letter, authored by Reps. Steve Rothman (D-NJ) and Steve Austria (R-OH), asks Obama to pressure PA President Mahmoud Abbas to “fully renounce any and all Palestinian incitement against Israel and the Jewish people.”
Given how uncontroversial it really was, the letter unsurprisingly garnered support from over two-thirds of the members of the two key committees that actually handle foreign policy. There are only a few more Republicans signed on than Democrats, making it truly bipartisan.
Even some of the Congressmen who are considered the strongest supporters of J-Street signed the Rothman-Austria letter, including unabashed leftist Jan Schakowsky of Illinois.
More important, every single subcommittee chairman from the Foreign Affairs Committee signed the letter, signaling support from the most influential lawmakers. (As a matter of custom, the chair and ranking member don’t usually sign on to letters relating to their committee’s purview.)
As a practical matter, the letter won’t impact policy – at least not right away. But with the overwhelming majority of the members of Foreign Affairs and most of its leaders pressing the administration to end Palestinian incitement, there undoubtedly will be legislative action if PA incitement continues.
Considering how much direct and indirect support the U.S. provides to the Palestinians each year, Congress could take decisive action to at least ensure that U.S. taxpayers are not funding incitement against Israel.
The letter’s two authors, Reps. Rothman and Austria, are both on the Foreign Operations subcommittee of Appropriations, an 11-member panel responsible for all spending on the State Department and foreign aid.
Rep. Rothman, who could not be reached for comment, has a long history of using his perch on the highly influential committee to prevent U.S. taxpayer dollars from funding terrorist groups or their propaganda.
In 2007, for example, he helped close loopholes exploited by the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development to give financial and other assistance to the Hamas-controlled Islamic University in Gaza, among other terror-tied entities. But he didn’t stop there. His efforts ultimately led to the creation of the Partner Vetting System, which finally forced State and other agencies to screen foreign aid recipients against terrorist watch lists.
In other words, J-Street picked the wrong guy with whom to fight. (J-Street refused comment for this story.)
Urging Congressmen not to sign the Rothman-Austria letter, a J-Street memo circulated on March 18 claimed that it was “beneath reasonable standards of accuracy and objectivity” because it failed to talk about Israel’s misdeeds and all the positive actions from the PA. That mentality is what defines J-Street: Israel’s negatives must always be highlighted, while the PA should be put in the best possible light.
While J-Street complained that the letter didn’t give credit to the PA for increasing security cooperation with Israel, the “pro-peace” outfit neglected the repeated instances captured by Palestinian Media Watch of Abbas and his officials–including “man of peace” Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad–honoring and glorifying “martyrs.”
Perhaps the most baffling attack J-Street leveled against the Rothman-Austria letter, though, was that it didn’t mention that Abbas “has twice attempted to renew the activity of the Israeli-Palestinian-American committee for preventing incitement created at the Wye conference.” Since when does a government leader need an international conference to have the people on his payroll stop encouraging children to kill their neighbors?
Then again, it’s difficult to single out any one part of what was a deeply misguided endeavor that, in essence, provided cover for incitement to violence. It’s a tactical blunder that likely will haunt them long into the future, as it makes it removes from J-Street any notion that it is “pro-Israel.”
A Democratic staffer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, summed up nicely the general attitude of many offices that joined the letter with the obvious question: “At the end of the day, what possible justification could there be for not telling the PA to end incitement?”

Joel Mowbray is the author of Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Threatens America’s Security and an adjunct fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

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