Friday, August 14, 2009

Imagine that

Muslims, Arabs among J Street donors

The J Street political action committee has received tens of thousands of dollars in donations from dozens of Arab and Muslim Americans, as well as from several individuals connected to organizations doing Palestinian and Iranian issues advocacy, according to Federal Election Commission filings.

Additionally, at least two State Department officials connected to Middle East issues have donated to the PAC, which gives money to candidates for US Congress supported by J Street. The organization describes itself as a "pro-Israel, pro-peace" lobby pushing for more American involvement and diplomacy in resolving the Middle East conflict.

I'm shocked. Really. Who would have thought that a self-described "pro-Israel" organization would have backing from Arabs, Muslims and State Department officials?

But why not? Don't all Jewish and Zionist organizations attract some of that same support?

Not so much.

Arab and Muslim donors are extremely rare for other organizations that describe themselves as supporters of Israel as J Street does, Jewish leaders at organizations across the political spectrum told The Jerusalem Post. Because most of these other organizations are not PACs, however, US law does not require them to release their donor lists. J Street's non-PAC arm also does not release a complete list of contributors.

So why do they support J Street? Beats me. Somehow, though, they must be getting the idea that J Street is furthering their agenda.

The funds that come from these sources indeed constitute a small fraction of the year-and-a-half-old organization's political fundraising, which totaled around $844,000 in 2008 - a key election year - and $111,000 so far in 2009. They comprise several dozen of the PAC's 4,000-5,000 donors.

But some of the contributors play key roles in the organization. The finance committee's 50 members - with a $10,000 contribution threshold - include Lebanese-American businessman Richard Abdoo, a current board member of Amideast and a former board member of the Arab American Institute, and Genevieve Lynch, who is also a member of the National Iranian American Council board. The group has also received several contributions from Nancy Dutton, an attorney who once represented the Saudi Embassy in Washington.

Smaller donors include several leaders of Muslim student groups, Saudi- and Iranian-born Americans, and Palestinian- and Arab-American businessmen who also give to Arab-oriented PACs.

It's odd, by the way. J Street also styles itself as a peace-promoting "alternative to AIPAC." And they both do lobby Congress and other government officials. But, unlike J Street, AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee) is not a PAC (Political Action Committee) and doesn't support or endorse policital candidates (no matter what its detractors claim). So it's not so much an "alternative" as it is an opponent. And its supporters know that.

Shabbat Shalom.