Philadelphia Feud Erupts Over Federation Embrace of Anti-J Street Film

Troubles Just as Group Makes Bid for Mainstream Acceptance

Fairly Balanced? J Street leader Jeremy Ben-Ami is portrayed as an incoherent voice for appeasement in a controversial video embraced by the Philadelphia Jewish federation.
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Fairly Balanced? J Street leader Jeremy Ben-Ami is portrayed as an incoherent voice for appeasement in a controversial video embraced by the Philadelphia Jewish federation.

By Nathan Guttman

Published March 26, 2014, issue of March 28, 2014.
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The federation rejected the criticism of its decision and made clear that the event will go ahead as planned. In a written comment provided to the Forward, Stroker said that while there may be many views on Israeli policies, “as a federation we support the State of Israel and its democratically elected government.” Stroker went on to accuse communal groups of making “false accusations” regarding the federation’s relations with J Street.

A similar debate took place at Hillel of Greater Philadelphia, which is also sponsoring the event. Members of J Street U complained to the board about not being consulted despite being an official member group of Hillel. “It was very frustrating because we felt we were an integral part of the community and now we are singled out,” said Jake Gutman, a Penn senior who is active in J Street U Penn.

Unlike the Philadelphia federation, Hillel leadership expressed some second thoughts about its decision to sponsor the event. “In retrospect, the board regrets that the student voice was not included in the conversation,” a statement issued by the group said. Hillel also expressed its concerns about screening the movie, but it concluded that “nonetheless, we believe that as it is planned, the program will serve an important purpose.”

J Street’s battle in Philadelphia may provide a sense of what the group can expect as it embarks on its bigger endeavor to join the Presidents Conference. Jeremy Ben-Ami, J Street’s executive director, will make his formal presentation to the Presidents Conference’s nominating committee April 10, and at the end of the month all member organizations will vote on whether to admit the group.

Officials with Jewish organizations represented in the Presidents Conference said J Street has been reaching out in recent months to groups to ensure their support, but it is still not clear if it has a majority among the umbrella organization’s 51 members.

J Street and the Presidents Conference would not respond to questions on this issue.

Contact Nathan Guttman at guttman@forward.com or follow him on Twitter, @nathanguttman


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