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Israel Trips Are the Best Way to Fight Anti-Israel Disinformation, Except When They Are Sponsored by J Street

Last month I was sitting on my Arnona/Talpiot terrace reading Avi Mayer’s Editor’s Notes Jerusalem Post column “How to create more pro-Israel progressives”  (August 11). He posited that providing progressive leadership and influencers with the opportunity to experience Israel firsthand is the best way to counter anti-Israel disinformation.

Based on my 12-year experience as the Zionist Organization of America’s Israel director, I can personally attest, albeit anecdotally, to the salutary impact Israel trips sponsored by AIPAC and other like minded pro-Israel organizations have on freshmen or senior, Democratic or Republican members of Congress alike.

The exception is J Street. Their trips, which include multiple encounters with profoundly anti-Israel interests, do significant damage to Israel’s standing, especially because they tend to include progressive legislators who often already harbor anti-Israel sentiments.

How do I know? Because in November 2021 my then-representative, Jamaal Bowman, a member of the notorious Squad, came to Israel with J Street. Prior to that trip Bowman, a card-carrying proud member of the anti-Israel Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), was already known to seasoned pro-Israel advocates as hostile to Israel’s interests. My colleagues counseled me against wasting my time and energy trying to make the pro-Israel case with him. I foolishly didn’t heed their advice but after more than 119 email exchanges and many attempts to engage with the congressman, I must admit they were right and I was wrong. Unfortunately, I’m a slow learner.

While I had the privilege of meeting with Bowman’s predecessor, Rep. Eliot Engel, countless times in Washington, Jerusalem and in-district, all attempts to engage with Bowman were met with frustrating excuse after excuse. Instead I was diverted to his chief of staff, Sarah Iddrissu, who informed me that he would be coming to Jerusalem that November with J Street, of all organizations. I offered to arrange a Jerusalem town hall for the congressman so he could share his views with so many of our transplanted and very knowledgeable American Jerusalemites. When that seemed to gain no traction, I offered a meeting with his constituents here who vote absentee ballot like me. Again no interest, so I offered to meet one-on-one with him in his hotel lobby as I had done so often before with other members of Congress who were not my representative. Iddrissu adroitly sidestepped. Offers to bring experts from Palestinian Media Watch and IMPACT-se, NGOs devoted to monitoring Palestinian media and education, to Bowman, himself an educator, were again met with “the check is in the mail” excuses and evasions.

On December 7, 2021 I met with Iddrissu in Washington. While we focused primarily on the extradition from Jordan of a convicted terrorist, Ahlam Tamimi, we also discussed the Peace and Tolerance in Palestinian Education Act, a toothless bipartisan bill introduced by Democratic member of Congress Brad Sherman, which would have simply mandated biannual reports to Congress about the Palestinians’ virulently anti-Israel, and yes antisemitic, textbooks. Iddrissu, always gracious, could not or would not commit to Bowman’s cosponsorship of even that most minimal anti-hate, pro-Israel gesture.

With the exception of a chance two-minute encounter with Bowman as we crossed paths and exchanged pleasantries on December 6, 2021 in front of the Capitol Building, Bowman has made it very clear by his refusal to meet that he does not want to be bothered by the facts. Since that visit to Washington, the lack of response from his staffers to follow-up communications made it obvious to even slow learners like me that Bowman would rather curry favor with his J Street, the Squad and the DSA anti-Israel cohort than stand up for peace, tolerance and coexistence.

Culminating in Bowman’s boycott of Israeli President Isaac Herzog’s recent address to a joint session of Congress, there has been a palpable negative shift in the congressman’s rhetoric and voting patterns after his 2021 J Street trip. The takeaway for the Jerusalem Post’s editor-in-chief, Mayer, among other pro-Israel influencers, should be that not all Israel trips are created equal. Some like J Street’s are so counterproductive that they turn moderately anti-Israel progressives into hardcore anti-Israel “regressives.” This phenomenon was also noted by Inna Serebro-Litvak in her July 13, 2023 Times of Israel blog, “J Street’s Not Pro-Israel or Pro-Peace” (https://bit.ly/3PScWZ3). She observed that “when a member of Congress [Rep. Bowman] added his name to a bill to advance normalization between Israel and its neighbors, it was the J Street trip to Israel that persuaded him to take his name off the legislation. They then gave Rep. Jamaal Bowman $100,000 for his reelection.”

It’s worth noting that the current NY-15 representative, Ritchie Torres, whom Mayer correctly lauds as a progressive and who is proudly and staunchly pro-Israel, is very much the exception rather than the rule among progressives.

In retrospect, the Presidents Conference got it right in 2014 when they rejected J Street’s membership bid in the umbrella organization. The majority of constituent organizations understood well the potential damage J Street could do to the U.S.-Israel relationship. Unless and until J Street reimagines itself as a truly pro-Israel organization, they should be held at arm’s length by any and all official Israeli representatives and institutions.


The writer is the former Israel director of the Zionist Organization of America.

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