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September 14, 2009

What's Missing from NY Times Article on J Street

James Traub's fawning "news analysis" (read promotional plug) on J Street in the New York Times Magazine notes that the organization is "named after the street missing from Washington's grid and thus evoking a voice missing from Washington's policy discussions." Traub's admiring article is itself guilty of missing critical information about the upstart lobby group.

Repeating without challenge J Street's assertion that polling data (polls, polls, always polls with J Street) indicates that Jewish Americans largely support its agenda, Traub writes:

J Street maintains that most American Jews share its views on the Middle East. . . . The question is how much of an exception they make for Israel. J Street sought to answer this question by commissioning an extensive poll of Jewish opinion on MIddle East issues. The survey, taken in July 2008 and repeated with almost identical findings in March, found that Americans Jews opposed further Israeli settlements (60 percent to 40 percent), that they overwhelmingly supported the proposition that the U.S. should be actively engaged in the peace process even if that entailed "publicly stating its disagreeements with both the Israelis and the Arabs" and that they strongly supported doing so even when the premise was revised to "publicly stating its disagreements with Israel."

One wonders if the New York Times Magazine writer bothered to actually look at the poll in question before he breathlessly recounted J Street's wishful thinking that the results indicate that the American Jewish public is behind them. Shmuel Rosner, a veteran reporter on American-Israeli affairs, wrote about that very same March poll:

1. J Street's press release reads the following: "Instead of holding the hawkish, hard-line positions often expressed by many established Jewish organizations and leaders, American Jews actually overwhelmingly support assertive peace efforts and an active U.S. role in helping Israelis and Arabs to resolve their conflict? American elected officials and politicians have for years fundamentally misread the American Jewish community," said Jeremy Ben-Ami, J Street's executive director in the press release.

But here's what the poll says: More people agree that "established" and "traditional" Jewish organizations represent their views than the number of people who say such organizations do not represent them. Even when AIPAC - supposedly the great Satan - is mentioned by name, more people (34 percent) believe it accurately represents their views than those (23 percent) who don't. The 40 percent who do not have an opinion also represent a group that can hardly be considered "fundamentally misread."

2. J Street opposes military action against Iran, "a terrible option for the U.S., regional stability, and for Israel." But American Jews will be more likely than not to vote for a Congressional candidate who believes that "America must do everything it can to protect Israel's security. This means militarily attacking Iran if they pursue a nuclear weapons program, supporting an Israeli pre-emptive strike against Iran, cutting off aid to the Palestinians if their schools allow textbooks that don't recognize Israel, and letting the Palestinians know where we stand on Jerusalem by moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem." . . .

3. My friends at the Orthodox Union (I have friends all around town) were quick to note, that J Street's PR for their poll conveniently omits mention of its findings on an issue we feel is of the utmost importance - the indivisibility of Jerusalem. Even among their respondents - who support 'assertive peace efforts and an active U.S. role' (i.e. pressure) and withdrawal from the West Bank - a majority do NOT believe Jerusalem should be re-divided with its eastern neighborhoods becoming part of a Palestinian state."

And here are our own observations about the gaps between J Street's poll results and the organization's positions:

-- J Street called for lifting the blockade of the Gaza Strip, while 75 percent of its poll respondents "support Israel's blockade of Gaza if the Palestinians block the agreement from being reached."

-- During Cast Lead, J Street maintained that "there is nothing 'right' in punishing a million and a half already-suffering Gazans for the actions of the extremists among them," but its poll found that 69 percent of respondents disagreed with the statement "With hundreds of Palestinian civilian deaths and a humanitarian crisis resulting from a month of no electricity and clean water throughout Gaza, Israel's response to Hamas' attacks was disproportionate." Hardly a ringing endorsement of J Street's views.

Thus, for all the mighty efforts of the pollster who carried out this poll, Jim Gerstein, a former J Street VP (can you say conflict of interest?), J Street was still able not to get the results it had wanted. But the lobby group was able to convince the New York Times otherwise.

Posted by TS at September 14, 2009 05:01 AM


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