- The Washington Times - Friday, September 24, 2010

The Jewish-American advocacy group J Street, which bills itself as the dovish alternative to the influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) lobby, has secretly received funding from billionaire George Soros despite previous denials that it accepted funds from the Hungarian-born financier and liberal political activist.

Tax forms obtained by The Washington Times reveal that Mr. Soros and his two children, Jonathan and Andrea Soros, contributed a total $245,000 to J Street from one Manhattan address in New York during the fiscal year from July 1, 2008 to June 30, 2009.

The contributions represent a third of the group’s revenue from U.S. sources during the period. Nearly half of J Street’s revenue during the timeframe — a total of $811,697 — however, came from a single donor in Happy Valley, Hong Kong, named Consolacion Esdicul.

Jeremy Ben Ami, J Street’s executive director, said in an interview that the $245,000 was part of a $750,000 gift from the Soros family to his organization made over three years. Mr. Ben Ami also said that in this same period he had raised $11 million for J Street and its political action committee.

Mr. Soros made billions as a hedge fund manager and currency speculator, founding the Quantum hedge fund that, until the early 1980s, was based in an offshore tax haven in the Dutch Antilles Islands. Both his business success and his subsequent charitable giving in support of favored political and social causes have made him a figure of immense controversy both in the United States and around the world.

One of the world’s wealthiest philanthropists, Mr. Soros gave initially gave money to support Eastern European dissidents at the end of the Cold War, particularly in his native Hungary, through the Open Society Institute.

But during the George W. Bush administration, Mr. Soros stepped up his funding of more partisan liberal organizations in the United States, including MoveOn.org and Media Matters for America. He has also strongly criticized U.S. policies regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including the Bush administration’ decision in 2007 not to recognize a Palestinian unity government that included the militant Islamist Hamas movement.

He specifically criticized AIPAC at the time in a New York Review of Books article, saying the group had “overreached itself” in trying to ensure a hawkish, pro-Israeli policy in the U.S. government.

AIPAC “became closely allied with the neocons and was an enthusiastic supporter of the invasion of Iraq,” Mr. Soros wrote.

Mr. Ben Ami in past interviews has described J Street as President Obama’s “blocking back” in Congress, with the group billing itself as the lead Jewish-American group supporting elements in the Israeli political spectrum who favor negotiating a lasting two-state peace deal with the Palestinians.

J Street has clashed repeatedly with AIPAC and other longstanding Jewish-American groups over U.S.-Israeli policy, coming out in 2009 against Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza.

More recently J Street has changed some of its earlier positions. The group now supports U.S. sanctions against Iran, but opposes the use of force against Tehran’s nuclear infrastructure.

David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, said in an interview, “I can only assume [J Street officials] have concluded that associating George Soros with an allegedly quote-unquote ‘pro-Israel organization’ may not be convincing to many who have followed George Soros and his views on the Middle East.”

Mr. Ben Ami said his group had no qualms about getting money from Mr. Soros.

“I am very, very proud that our movement and what we are trying to do is aligned with the values and principles of George Soros and we are proud to have his support,” he said.

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