Israel Lobby Aided Hill Visits for U.N. Report Author; S. African Excoriated Gaza War Campaign

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), September 30, 2010 | Go to article overview

Israel Lobby Aided Hill Visits for U.N. Report Author; S. African Excoriated Gaza War Campaign


Byline: Ben Birnbaum and Eli Lake, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

J Street - the self-described pro-Israel, pro-peace lobbying group - facilitated meetings between members of Congress and South African Judge Richard Goldstone, author of a U.N. report that accused the Jewish state of systematic war crimes in its three-week military campaign against Hamas in Gaza.

Colette Avital - a former member of Israel's parliament, from the center-left Labor Party and until recently J Street's liaison in Israel - told The Washington Times that her decision to resign her post with J Street earlier this year was a result in part of the group's connection to Judge Goldstone.

When Judge Goldstone came to Washington, [J Street leaders were] suggesting that they might help him set up his appointments on Capitol Hill, she said. Ms. Avital later disavowed knowledge of J Street's dealings with Judge Goldstone during a conference call arranged by J Street's president, Jeremy Ben-Ami.

J Street, which bills itself as a liberal alternative to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), acted on behalf of Judge Goldstone last fall, when the Obama administration was trying to tamp down the report at the United Nations.

The chairman and ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee had also been circulating a bipartisan resolution condemning Judge Goldstone's report before the retired South African jurist came to Washington.

The Goldstone Report is widely viewed as slanderous toward the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) among the American Jewish community and in Israel. It accuses the IDF of deliberately targeting civilians in the ground and air war in Gaza, which resulted in at least 1,000 Palestinian deaths. The White House also has criticized the report.

J Street's promotion of Judge Goldstone in Congress is raising questions about J Street's identity as a pro-Israel organization.

J Street, in its public statements on the Goldstone Report, has neither condemned nor endorsed its substance.

In a statement provided to The Washington Times this week, Mr. Ben-Ami said, J Street did not host, arrange or facilitate any visit to Washington, D.C., by Judge Richard Goldstone.

He went on to say, however, that J Street staff spoke to colleagues at the organizations coordinating the meetings and, at their behest, reached out to a handful of congressional staff to inquire whether members would be interested in seeing Judge Goldstone.

He added, We believed it to be a good idea for him and for members of Congress to meet personally, but we declined to play a role in hosting, convening or attending any of the meetings.

When asked later how many congressional offices had been contacted, a J Street staffer told the Times that it was two or three. Mr. Ben-Ami later said he did not remember reaching out to Congress at all.

A senior officer of J Street, however, played a central role in arranging Judge Goldstone's visit.

Judge Goldstone told The Times in an interview that he had sought the meetings after a discussion with longtime friend Morton H. Halperin - president of the Open Society Institute (OSI) and one of five senior officers at J Street, according to the group's federal tax returns. Those forms list Mr. Halperin as a director, and say he spends 10 hours a week on J Street business.

He suggested - and I agreed - that it would be a good idea for me to meet with some of the leading members of Congress, Judge Goldstone said. I thought it was important to correct the misimpressions. He added that Mr. Halperin had hand-delivered a personal letter he had written to members of Congress.

Judge Goldstone said he remembers attending 10 or 12 meetings. J Street co-founder Daniel Levy, who accompanied the judge to several of the parleys, said that the New America Foundation (NAF) - whose Middle East Task Force he co-chairs - had also hosted a lunch with Judge Goldstone for a group of analysts and Middle East wonks. …

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