JERUSALEM – Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., and former Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., are among the keynote speakers slated to address the annual dinner of J Street, a controversial Israel-lobby group accused of working against the Jewish state, while scores of lawmakers are backing out of the event amid news-media coverage of the organization’s agenda.
Nearly 160 congressional lawmakers, mostly Democrats, endorsed the Oct. 26 dinner with some reportedly slated to attend.
The night’s speaker list includes politicians as well as poet Josh Healey, who has penned works implying Israel is perpetuating a Holocaust against Palestinians.
J Street brands itself as pro-Israel. It states on its website it seeks to “promote meaningful American leadership to end the Arab-Israeli and Israeli-Palestinian conflicts peacefully and diplomatically.” The organization mostly is led by left-leaning Israelis while it receives funds from Arab and Muslim Americans.
J Street has become close to the Obama administration. The group’s leaders regularly consult with White House officials and are invited to official administration events, including meetings between Obama and top Jewish leaders.
The group supports talks with Hamas, a terrorist group whose charter seeks the destruction of Israel. J Street opposes sanctions against Iran and is harshly critical of Israeli offensive anti-terror military actions.
Even the Israeli government has been distancing itself from J Street, with its ambassador to Washington, Michael Oren, so far refusing to attend the upcoming dinner. Israeli Embassy spokesman Yoni Peled told the Jerusalem Post his government has some “concern over certain [J Street] policies that could impair Israel’s interests.”
The Powerline blog documented how far-leftist Israelis are influential in the J Street leadership, including former Knesset Speaker Avrum Burg, who generated controversy when he stated, “To define the State of Israel as a Jewish state is the key to its end.”
Another key J Street member, Mideast expert Henry Siegman, has compared Israel to apartheid South Africa.
Meanwhile, 157 congressmen and senators endorsed J Street’s dinner. Some are slated to attend.
Following a series of postings exposing J Street at The Weekly Standard and Hot Air, some politicians backed out of the dinner, including Kirsten Gillibrand, Chuck Schumer, Blanche Lincoln and Mike Castle. Schumer’s office explained the politician was not aware he had endorsed the dinner.
The Standard highlighted poet Healey’s speaker spot at the J Street dinner. Lines from some of his poems include a verse referring to Israel: “We’re the ones writing numbers on the wrists of babies born in the ghetto called Gaza?”
Healey also slammed Ronald Reagan as “the first coming of crack / white Jesus pushing white powder / remaking chocolate city the capital of the murder map.” Another Healey poem, entitled “Queer Intifada,” relates his participation in a “Palestinian solidarity march.”
Last week, J Street sent an e-mail to supporters blaming “neoconservatives and their Swift Boat tactics” for affecting the dinner guest list:
“They’re working the phones – calling the offices of every one of the 150-plus members of Congress on our Gala’s Honorary Host Committee to frighten them away from associating with J Street. The most infuriating part is that their thuggish smear tactics are having an impact – already 5 members of Congress have pulled off of our Host Committee.”