A four-year-old Washington lobbying group called J Street has been stirring up debate — and campaigning for support — both in America and in Israel over the best way to support Israeli’s interests and security. It calls itself pro-Israel and pro-peace, but offers a more moderate alternative to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a pro-Israel lobbying group that traditionally has supported members of Congress who are strong, outspoken defenders of that country.
On its website, J Street states that it “gives political voice to mainstream American Jews and other supporters of Israel who, informed by their Jewish values, believe that a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is essential to Israel’s survival as the national home of the Jewish people and as a vibrant democracy.”
While J Street — which opposes Israeli settlements in the West Bank — joined debate inside an Israeli Parliamentary hearing room recently, it also stormed onto Capitol Hill to try to convince lawmakers that they don’t have to completely agree with the country’s conservative prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. And J Street’s political action committee has been raising funds at an increasing rate, hoping to pull in $2 million to support 60 congressional candidates by November, according to The New York Times. Among its endorsements: California Senator Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio; Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis.; and Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Oregon, who won a January 2012 special election.
J Street is hoping to become a strong alternative to AIPAC, a group founded in the 1950s that in recent years has spent nearly $3 million annually on lobbying efforts. So far this year, AIPAC has spent more than $710,000.
J Street, which was launched in 2008, spent $520,000 in 2010, and just $400,000 this past year. It has five lobbyists listed, and among them are:
- Joy Langley, a former lobbyist for the National Council for Community and Education Partnerships;
- Rebecca Jean Wasserman, a former lobbyist for American Rights at Work;
- Dylan Williams, a former legislative assistant to Sen. Olympia J. Snowe, R-Maine;
- and recently hired Sam Berkman, a former intern for Senator Richard Durbin, D-Illinois.
The lobbying firm has focused on a narrow package of issues and legislation so far this year:
- H.R. 417, a bill, Prevent Iran from Acquiring Nuclear Weapons and Stop War Through Diplomacy Act
- Drafts of S.Res. 380 regarding Iran’s nuclear program
- House letters concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and diplomacy to address Iran’s nuclear program
- Resuming U.S. contributions to UNESCO
AIPAC has 11 lobbyists listed in its disclosure forms, several of whom have been with the organization for several years, including:
- David Gillette, former deputy assistant secretary in the Senate and floor assistant for the chief Democratic Whips,
- Bradley Gordon, former staff director for the Subcommittee on International Operations and Human Rights;
- Jeff Kuhnreich, former senior policy advisor to Sen. Jon Kyl,
With the broader staff and higher funding, the scope of the bills Aipac targets is broader. In 2012, its work has included
- H.Con.Res 112 the budget resolution
- H.R. 1905 Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Human Rights Act of 2012,
- H.R. 3674 PRECISE Act of 2011
- H.R. 4133 United States-Israel Enhanced Security Cooperation Act of 2012
- H.Res 568 Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives regarding the importance of preventing the government of Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability
- S. 1048 Iran, North Korea, and Syria Sanctions Consolidation Act of 2011
- S. 2102 Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act of 2012,
- S. 2165 United States-Israel Enhanced Security Cooperation Act of 2012
- S. 413 Cybersecurity and Internet Freedom Act of 2011
- S. Res. 380 A resolution to express the sense of the Senate regarding the importance of preventing the Government of Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons capability.