The White House appears to be distancing itself from the liberal advocacy group J Street that it once embraced as its envoy to the U.S. Jewish community after disclosures that nearly half the group’s funding for 2008 came from a single Hong Kong donor.
White House spokesman Thomas Vietor declined to comment when asked on Monday if the White House would continue its past practice of inviting J Street’s leaders to take part in conference calls with senior White House officials and to other White House events, and whether senior Obama administration officials would take part in future J Street conferences.
Retired Marine Corps Gen. James L. Jones, President Obama’s national security adviser, was the keynote speaker at J Street’s inaugural convention in 2009. At the convention, he said: “You can be sure this administration will be represented at all future conferences.”
Jeremy Ben Ami, J Street’s executive director, once described his organization as Mr. Obama’s “blocking back” in Congress and a progressive alternative to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
Reaction to J Street’s funding sources intensified in recent days after The Washington Times reported on Friday that the group received $750,000 from Hungarian-born billionaire George Soros and his family. The Times obtained copies of J Street’s federal tax documents that also disclosed how nearly half of J Street’s revenue from July 2008 to June 2009 - a total of $811,697 - came from a single donor in Happy Valley, Hong Kong, named Consolacion Esdicul.
J Street’s Mr. Ben Ami said that Ms. Esdicul gave the money to J Street in multiple wire transfers at the behest of William Benter, a Pittsburgh-based philanthropist and the CEO of Acusis, a medical-services company.
In an interview Monday, Rep. Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican and House minority whip, said: “The White House needs to disassociate itself from J Street, denounce J Street and cut off all ties.”
Mr. Cantor, the only Jewish Republican in the House, added that “I am hopeful this revelation will now cause people to begin to ignore what they say. They are not reflecting the mainstream position of the pro-Israel community in America, nor do I think they help benefit the U.S.-Israel relationship.”
“I don’t know anything about George Soros’ funding or this Connie woman, but I do know J Street is an organization that has effectively lobbied on the Hill for peace in the Middle East, for Israel, the Palestinian people and the United States of America and that is win, win, win,” countered Rep. Steve Cohen, Tennessee Democrat and a J Street supporter.
One issue dogging J Street in the Jewish community is its support from Mr. Soros, who has given billions of dollars to political causes he supports since the mid-1980s. Mr. Soros, through the Open Society Institute, supported a number of former Soviet satellite states and provinces in the transition from dictatorship to democracy. He has also been a key funding source for liberal causes in the United States, giving large donations to Moveon.org, among others.
In a 2007 article in the New York Review of Books, Mr. Soros urged the Democratic Party to free itself from the influence of AIPAC and said that Howard Dean did not win his party’s nomination in 2004 because he was not sufficiently pro-Israel.
Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said Monday that The Times story was important because it exposed how Mr. Soros was funding J Street despite previous denials from the group.
Mr. Ben Ami has not said he lied. He did, however, state in a note to supporters on Sunday: “I accept responsibility personally for being less than clear about Mr. Soros’ support once he did become a donor.”
Mr. Hoenlein said “this is further evidence of the duplicity that they have manifested all along, portraying themselves as something they are not, and engaging in attacks against others when they should have been taking care of their own house.”
“I certainly think it was wrong that they did not talk about Soros from the beginning,” said Rabbi Steve Gutow, president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.
“I don’t think this is the end of J Street, though. From my experience, they have been very helpful. When the divestment campaign was in full swing at Berkeley, J Street weighed in effectively in opposition to the effort to get the university to divest from Israel,” he said.