Jewish lobby group admits Soros support

J Street previously ‘less than clear’

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J Street, the liberal Middle East policy advocacy organization, on Sunday issued a statement acknowledging what the group had earlier denied: J Street received financial support from billionaire George Soros.

“I accept responsibility personally for being less than clear about Mr. Soros‘ support once he did become a donor,” Jeremy Ben Ami, J Street’s executive director, said in a note to supporters on the group’s website.

The Washington Times first disclosed Friday that J Street, a group that portrays itself as a progressive alternative to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), had received $750,000 from Mr. Soros and his family, despite previous denials from the organization that it accepted funds from the Hungarian-born financier and political activist.

The story set off a wave of reaction on the Internet and in the U.S. Jewish press. James Besser, Washington correspondent for New York Jewish Week, wrote Sunday that J Street deceived him about receiving support from Mr. Soros.

“I was one of the many journalists who asked the question and received in return something significantly less than the truth,” Mr. Besser wrote. “Okay, it was a lie.”

Tax forms obtained by The Times show 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, which also covered the election season that brought Barack Obama to the White House. Nearly half of J Street’s revenue during the time frame — a total of $811,697 — however, came from a single donor in Happy Valley, Hong Kong, named Consolacion Esdicul.

Mr. Soros made billions of dollars as a hedge-fund manager and currency speculator. He founded the Quantum hedge fund, which, until the early 1980s, was based in an offshore tax haven in the Dutch Antilles Islands.

One of the world’s wealthiest philanthropists, Mr. Soros 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. He also has criticized U.S. policies regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including the Bush administration’s decision in 2007 not to recognize a Palestinian unity government that included Hamas, an organization listed by the U.S. State Department as a foreign terrorist organization. President Obama has continued Mr. Bush’s policies of no official recognition for Hamas and excluding the group from U.S.-brokered peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Mr. Soros 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.

Mr. Ben Ami in past interviews has described J Street as Mr. Obama’s “blocking back” in Congress and denied getting any funding from Mr. Soros.

J Street has also clashed with AIPAC and other long-standing 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 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.”

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