J Street, Liberal Pro-Israel Group, Claims Big Win on Chuck Hagel

Progressive Group Proves It's a Player in Obama's D.C.

Key Role: Once shunned, J-Street is now a mainstream player in Washington. The liberal group is trumpeting its help pushing through the nomination of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.
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Key Role: Once shunned, J-Street is now a mainstream player in Washington. The liberal group is trumpeting its help pushing through the nomination of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.

By Reuters

Published March 10, 2013.
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Ben-Ami and other J Street personnel wrote op-eds on Hagel’s behalf, set up a website, and created a campaign targeted to Jewish-Americans - “Smear a bagel, not Chuck Hagel” - in which J Street pledged to send bagels to local food banks in honor of conservative Hagel opponent Bill Kristol, for every 18 people who signed a pro-Hagel petition.

SPIN OR INFLUENCE?

Conservatives say J Street overstates its influence, and is not a player compared with AIPAC, which has spent 60 years establishing itself in Washington and drew up to 10,000 people - including dozens of politicians - to its annual conference this past week. AIPAC declined to comment for this story.

“I can easily picture that J Street is spinning (Hagel’s confirmation) as a demonstration of their new influence because they’ve been desperately trying to convince people of their influence ever since they came on the block. But I’m very skeptical,” said Joshua Muravchik, a fellow at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and a well-known neo-conservative foreign policy commentator.

Hagel’s confirmation, he said, was due more to Obama’s clout after just being re-elected and the Israeli government’s decision not to get involved.

J Street has made missteps over the years.

Ben-Ami apologized for having made misleading statements about the role of George Soros in 2010, when the group acknowledged accepting large donations from the liberal financier - hated by conservatives - after earlier saying it had not. Soros’s organization has said he makes no secret of his donation. The financier contributes to a wide array of groups.

Some observers say J Street also battles a perception that it is too close to the Obama administration, raising questions about its influence if a Republican president succeeds Obama.

“J Street strikes me as being an organization that’s much more comfortable in the Democratic party,” said Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.


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