With the Israeli government’s latest (and in my view, misguided) decision to start construction on housing in East Jerusalem, the struggle over the future of the peace process has grown more intense. Meanwhile, as Middle East diplomacy heats up, J Street–an organization primarily representing American Jews who disagree with the hardline policies of the current Israeli government and look for alternative negotiating strategies–has been engulfed in a scandal. It turns out that despite some repeated weaselly and disingenuous statements by the organization’s president Jeremy Ben-Ami extending over a long period of time and made to many different people –statements which at least one journalist has characterized as ‘a lie‘– J Street has received funding from George Soros and family to the tune of more than $700,000. Additional questions are being raised about the organization’s other funders; some of the money seems to come from mysterious foreign donors whose identity, so far, has been difficult to establish.
I can’t speak to the unknown foreign donors issue. The problem of wealthy individuals transferring large amounts of money around the world under a murky veil of cut outs and bank secrecy is a serious one; there is no indication, however, that either the donor or J Street has done anything wrong. Still, it is always a bad idea for the presidents of public policy institutions to repeatedly attempt to mislead the public about the sources of their funding, and that is particularly true when they are working on hot button issues like the Middle East. Resignations are normally the correct response to screw ups this big and this ugly, and the organization’s failure so far to demonstrate that it considers this breach of the public trust to be a deeply serious matter is not a good sign.