‘Alternative’ US lobby prepares to launch

By Nathan Guttman, April 11, 2008
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After almost a year in preparation, a new dovish Jewish group is ready to launch its operations hoping to reflect the views of what its founders see as the silent majority of American Jews.

The group, which will be named J Street — a Washington-insider joke relating to the fact that the city’s alphabetically-named street grid does not have a J street — is expected to formally kick off its operations next week, after already starting to raise over a million dollars.

J Street will work as a PAC — a Political Action Committee — raising money from Jewish donors for political candidates who support the group’s goals: enhanced US involvement in promoting a two-state solution, support for peace talks between Israel and Syria and backing a diplomatic approach to the nuclear crisis with Iran.

The attempts to create the new group underwent significant difficulties since plans were revealed last year. The initial plan to build a new pro-Israel lobbying group which would serve as a counterweight to the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac) failed to gain traction within the Jewish community. Talks about engaging Jewish billionaires such as George Soros in the project also led to few results.

Yet the final product, a political action committee coupled with a smaller lobbying arm which will deal mainly with education and media, is still a major development for the Jewish community and has the potential of changing — over the long run — the pattern of political donations within the community.

The new group is conducting its operations under a veil of secrecy until it is officially launched. Members of the J Street project refuse to talk to the press and information about the planned activities are kept away from the public. The group will be headed by Jeremy Ben Ami, a former aide to president Bill Clinton who was involved in the attempts to create a dovish Jewish lobby from the beginning. While the staff working for the group is small, it boasts an impressive list of members on its advisory board. The list includes activists from existing pro-peace Jewish groups and former negotiators and diplomats. One of the prominent figures is British-born Daniel Levy, who served as an adviser to Israeli governments on peace talks before becoming active in the Washington dovish-progressive scene.

Aipac, seen as the major rival to the new group, did not comment on the upcoming launch of J Street. Aipac supporters, however, said there were no concerns over the new group, since it will not operate on a scale even remotely close to that of Aipac’s
operation.

    Last updated: 2:13pm, April 10 2008