Jeremy Ben-Ami, rebel

Yitzhak Ben-Ami in the US Army, 1944

Yitzhak Ben-Ami in the US Army, 1944

By Victor Rosenthal

Earlier this week I wrote about the Bergson Group and their struggle to get the FDR Administration to take action to save European Jews during the Holocaust. I’ve come across an article by Sol Stern that adds something new to the story.

Along with Hillel Kook (alias Peter Bergson) was one Yitzhak Ben-Ami. Kook, Ben-Ami and the others were members of the ‘Irgun’, a right-wing Zionist organization led by Menachem Begin. They had initially come to the US from the yishuv in Palestine to raise money and obtain arms for the clandestine militia, but when they realized what was happening in Europe, the mission changed.

As I wrote, Kook’s group met with resistance from the Jewish establishment in the US. Stern tells what happened:

No single figure did more to undermine the Committee’s work than Rabbi Stephen Wise of Temple Emmanuel [sic], undisputed boss of several national Jewish organizations and often referred to as “King of the Jews.”  On the day that Ben-Ami and his colleagues were leading 100 orthodox rabbis in a demonstration in front of the White House to protest the Roosevelt administration’s inaction on rescue, Wise was advising administration officials that the Bergson group “did not represent Jewish thinking in America.” Wise viewed the young Palestinians and their American supporters as interlopers and even tried to get Ben-Ami and his colleagues deported. Accused by Wise of being a draft dodger, Ben-Ami then enlisted in the American Army.

Yitzhak Ben-Ami, himself the son of pioneer Zionists who were among the founders of Tel Aviv (supposedly he was the first Jewish baby born in the new city in 1911), survived the Battle of the Bulge and came back to the US.

In New York he raised a daughter, Deborah, and a son, Jeremy. Yes, that Jeremy Ben-Ami, Executive Director of the phony ‘pro-Israel’ lobby, J Street.

Yitzhak did well in America, and Jeremy’s life was much easier than that of his father (who died in 1984), including private school and Princeton. After a job as regional director for the anti-Zionist New Israel Fund (if you have a problem with my adjective, please read the linked post),  Jeremy went to work for Howard Dean’s presidential campaign and then for Fenton Communications.

Fenton is a PR firm that specializes in progressive causes. Indeed, they proudly write “We only represent causes we believe in ourselves” on their website, and they claim to have helped “galvanize public opposition to end apartheid” and “save the North Atlantic Swordfish from the brink of extinction.”

Apparently they also believe in helping Hamas, because — as I reported here last June — they did extensive work for a propaganda enterprise called the Al Fakhoora Project, paid for by Her Highness Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser Al-Missned, wife of the Emir of Qatar, and which calls for the ending of all restrictions on goods and transit to the Gaza Strip, as well as dispensing the usual demonization of Israel.

According to Mandy Katz, Ben-Ami began to work on J Street while he was an Executive Vice President at Fenton:

When Dean’s campaign folded in 2004, Ben-Ami took up in earnest his father’s focus on Israel. Bringing his experience and a list of progressive donors acquired since his Clinton years, he sought advice from David Fenton of Fenton Communications, a consultancy for progressive non-profits. “David convinced me to do the incubation as a project of Fenton,” Ben-Ami says. Now based in Washington, Ben-Ami consulted for other Fenton clients on issues like climate change, while pushing for a new organization—possibly a merger of existing groups, that would also be the Zionist left’s first registered lobby.

Ben-Ami left Fenton to become executive director of J Street in late 2007, before the Al Fakhoora project contract was signed (2009, per J Street’s Myths and Facts page), and claims to have no knowledge of it. Ben-Ami also claimed that J Street had received no funds from George Soros — until it became public knowledge.

J Street was helped a great deal by Ben-Ami’s relationship with the Obama Administration, which in 2009 invited the new organization to a meeting of ‘Jewish leaders’ at the White House — a traditional gathering from which the right-leaning Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) was dropped for the first time.

It’s ironic that Jeremy Ben-Ami, welcome in the White House the way his father was not,  sees himself an outsider struggling against a powerful establishment. Stern writes,

But it takes a huge historical leap and considerable conceit to suggest that there is any valid comparison between J Street’s political movement of today and Jeremy’s father’s struggles in the 1940s to alert Americans to the ongoing destruction of European Jewry. For daring to advance their own ideas about the best way to rescue the endangered Jews of Europe, Yitzhak Ben-Ami and his Irgun colleagues were subjected to calumny and dirty tricks directed against them from mainstream Jewish leaders like Rabbi Wise.  These leaders betrayed their moral obligation to forcefully advocate the rescue of Jews in Nazi occupied Europe because of their lack of political imagination and a cowardly unwillingness to challenge a popular American president.

The situation today is almost reversed. Whatever else one might say about AIPAC and the current “establishment,” American Jewish leaders have apparently learned the dreadful lessons of the 1940s. On the other hand it is the J Street “dissidents” who seem indifferent to the fact that Israel’s five million Jews are threatened with either physical destruction or politicide by a new international coalition of Jew haters. In that circumstance it is perfectly reasonable for American Jews to express their solidarity with whatever government Israelis have chosen (at the ballot box) to lead them in the current emergency…

… Ben-Ami’s father exhibited true courage when he stood up to Rabbi Wise in the 1940s and championed the lost cause of the European Jews. On the other hand, it is truly an Orwellian moment when Ben Ami anoints Peter Beinart as courageous for writing an article for the New York Review of Books (which Beinart followed up on by bagging a six figure book advance and lucrative Passover speaking engagements at Jewish resorts). It became all the more grotesque when Beinart, in his J Street speech, cited Rabbi Wise as his own liberal Zionist hero.

Jeremy Ben-Ami’s reflexive response to criticism is to accuse his critics of being “right-wing” (the phrase appears five times on J Street’s “myths and facts” page).

I wonder what Yitzhak Ben-Ami would say to that?

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One Response to “Jeremy Ben-Ami, rebel”

  1. Shalom Freedman says:

    This was interesting. But somehow I think JStreet given the present meltdown situation facing the global economy is not going to play a very large part in President Obama’s re-election thoughts.