J Street senior staff supported ‘conditioning’ US military aid to Israel, report says

Objections from the group’s Israel office “derailed” the proposal, reports The Intercept.

By World Israel News Staff 

It started among the staff who had been active on U.S. campuses, reports The Intercept. 

Early this year, past and present members of the board of J Street U, which is J Street’s college and university campus organizing arm, presented a letter to J Street president and founder Jeremy Ben-Ami and his board, calling on the organization to take “bold action … that responds appropriately to this political moment” by “imposing actual, tangible costs” for Israel’s occupation policies, according to the news outlet.

The letter stated that “only when confronted with possible cuts of aid or diplomatic support will the Israeli far-right leadership accept the end of occupation, as recent events show,” says The Intercept, which refers to itself as a source of adversarial journalism.

The letter, said to have been signed by 35 people who served on the J Street U board from 2013 to 2019, proposed “that J Street develop a strategy that moves the organization toward an agenda of selective aid reduction, i.e. every shekel the Israeli government spends on settlements and home demolitions results in a proportional reduction of American military aid,” according to the report.

The signatories referred to members of Congress considered among the most hostile toward Israel as proof that J Street could garner support for such an agenda.

“Recently documented shifts in the base of the Democratic Party and the successful campaigns of Rashida Tlaib and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, candidates to J Street’s left who are widely supported by young people in particular, demonstrate that there could be widespread support among the Democratic base for a strategic yet sharper-edged posture toward Israel’s occupation — and that J Street must activate this base, at least partially, in order to be in tune with the politics of our generation,” the letter stated, according to The Intercept.

The news outlet reports that when the policy was debated within J Street earlier this year, “it appeared that Ben-Ami and, as a result, the board, were ready to get behind it, but sources with knowledge of the debate say that objections from the group’s Israel office derailed it. Specifically, Yael Patir, J Street’s Tel Aviv-based Israel director, warned that if it endorsed conditioning aid, J Street would lose any influence it had in the Knesset or Israeli politics generally.”

Patir’s argument “carried the day,” says The Intercept.

It says, however, that in April, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged to extend Israeli law to parts of Judea and Samaria, Ben-Ami said in an interview that “Israel going down the road of annexation puts all aspects of the U.S.-Israel relationship on the table and opens up a really serious discussion about what should happen,” including “the question of to what purposes is the aid that the United States provides to the state of Israel put, and that is a really important conversation.”

At J Street’s October conference, Ben-Ami told the audience, “Our aid is not intended to be a blank check,” The Intercept notes.

Before the conference was over, says the news outlet, Ben-Ami issued a statement trying to make clear that his organization was only going as far as opening up debate on the topic but that it had not endorsed the policy.

It did “not amount to a call for reducing or conditioning American assistance,” he stated, but it did “demand a serious inquiry into the uses to which aid is being put and consideration of what restrictions to its use are appropriate,” says the report.