Several Jewish groups in the US are launching a new organization to offer an alternative, pro-peace voice to counter the influence of the hawkish American Israel Public Affair Committee (AIPAC).
"I signed on because I think this is a worthwhile endeavor," Samuel Lewis, a leading American Jew and a former US ambassador to Israel, told the Jewish Week magazine.
"I’m very sympathetic with the core principles: to provide a voice in favor of an active US role in promoting negotiations and peacemaking, and a somewhat more balanced approach to the parties than some other Jewish organizations."
The new organization will be publicly launched by mid-April and its board of directors will feature prominent American Jews such as former chief of Israel’s Mossad Debra DeLee and political activist Marcia Freedman, the chief of Peace Now US.
It will be headed by Ben-Ami, deputy domestic policy adviser in the Bill Clinton administration and media consultant of several Jewish groups.
J-Street wants to represent a fresh political perspective that is closer to the consensus of American Jews and serve as a political contra of AIPAC’s far-right ideologies.
"For too long, the loudest American voices in political and policy debates have been those on the far right — often Republican neoconservatives or extreme Christian Zionists," reads an invitation to Monday’s fundraiser for "J Street".
"J Street aims to change that."
The new organization will be publicly launched by the middle of April, and founders will not speak publicly about the group until then, according to the US weekly.
Founded in 1953, AIPAC’s original name was the American Zionist Committee for Public Affairs.
AIPAC has more than 100,000 members and is considered one of the most influential special interest groups in the US.
Its stated purpose is to lobby the Congress on issues and legislation that are in the best interests of Israel and the US.
J Street planners hope the group will offer a more dovish voice on the crucial issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"We are the first and only lobby and PAC (political action committee) dedicated to ensuring Israel’s security, changing the direction of American policy in the Middle East and opening up American political debate about Israel and the Middle East," reads the fundraising invitation.
In order to achieve this goal, the group will focus on helping politicians who support a more active US peacemaking role.
"The goal is to add another, more political layer to support for peace negotiations," a source familiar with the discussions that created the group told the Jewish Week.
The project is the result of a lengthy process to "figure out what to do to help organizations that are dovish within the American Zionist fold," said another knowledgeable source.
AIPAC, which does not support peace, has been effective in gaining support for Israel among members of Congress and White House administrations.
In 1987, New York Times described it as "a major force in shaping US policy in the Middle East."
A year later, leaders of the American Jewish Committee, the American Jewish Congress and the Anti-Defamation League signed a letter criticizing AIPAC as not reflecting the consensus views of the Jewish community on Mideast peace issues.
Multi-billionaire and longtime political activist George Soros has accused AIPAC of stifling criticism of Israel and opposing any peace dialogue with Palestinians.
"These people will get hammered and accused of being anti-Israel," Wald expects.
Although the new group has already won the support of prominent US Jews, analysts foresee many challenges ahead.
"AIPAC has been recognized by non-Jewish politicians as the voice of the Jewish community," said Ken Wald, a University of Florida political scientist.
He expects J Street will face limited fundraising pool because many Jewish leaders believe "Jews must present a united front" on Israel-related matters.
Wald argues that an alternative voice "may be hard to sell to non-Jewish politicians who don’t want to be tarred as anti-Israel."
Jews on the left, he said, are less likely to put Israel-related politics at the top of their list of priorities – something AIPAC supporters and supports of pro-Israel political action committees have traditionally done.
Wald also expects the new group to face aggressive attacks from the Jewish right.
"I’m a realist; these people will get hammered and accused of being anti-Israel.
"A lot will have to do with the way they actually frame their arguments."
(IslamOnline.net and agencies)