What will $11 million buy you in London?

A guest post by AKUS

In Washington, $11 million buys you your own lobbying organization opposed to Israel’s government and gets you access to the White House and Congress. That is the amount that J Street has raised since 2008. But now, serious questions have arisen regarding the sources of some of that money and the purposes of some of the donors.

I refer, of course, to the expanding scandal surrounding J Street and its slippery director, Jeremy Ben-Ami , a person deeply involved with many of the organizations central to the campaign to delegitimize Israel.

It has emerged, thanks to investigative reporting in the Washington Times, that J Street had received substantial support from financier George Soros. Soros is widely regarded as intensely opposed to Israeli government policies and is a known supporter of many of the organizations opposed to Israel’s government. The Times article cited Gerald Steinberg, NGO Monitor’s director, in a New York Post op-ed before the J Street controversy broke:

“In the Middle East, for example, [Soros] Open Society Institute exclusively supports advocacy groups that campaign internationally to undermine the elected governments of Israel — organizations such as Adalah, Peace Now, Breaking the Silence, Gisha and Yesh Din.”  (Adalah is opposed to Israel’s very existence, incidentally).

According to the Washington Post, which has largely avoided the issue, the source of the Washington Times’ information was J Street’s tax records:

“The liberal group’s Web site suggested that J Street had received no funding from George Soros, the wealthy philanthropist who serves as a bete noire for many conservatives. It also said that donors were “primarily individual Jewish Americans” and that it “accepts no funding from foreign governments or from foreign organizations.”

“But confidential tax records mistakenly made public by the Internal Revenue Service seemed to undermine those characterizations – causing a major public relations problem for the fledgling group, which has enjoyed regular access to the White House and senior Obama administration officials.”

According to the Times article, widely regarded as authoritative and even cited in the Washington Jewish Week, a paper which appears to be sympathetic to J Street:

“The backdrop for the brouhaha is Ben-Ami’s repeated denials that Soros had a role in founding the dovish pro-Israel lobby and strongly implying that he continued to have no role.”

It is, apparently, technically correct that Soros was not one of the founders. However, once the organization was founded, the tax records revealed that J Street received massive funding from the Soros family and associates – a small matter that Ben-Ami neglected to point out, under cover of the technicality that Soros was not one of the initial funders of the organization:

“Tax forms obtained by The Washington Times reveal that Mr. Soros and his two children, Jonathan and Andrea Soros, contributed a total $245,000 to J Street from one Manhattan address in New York during the fiscal year from July 1, 2008 to June 30, 2009.”

Jeremy Ben Ami, J Street’s executive director, said in an interview that the $245,000 was part of a $750,000 gift from the Soros family to his organization made over three years. Mr. Ben Ami also said that in this same period he had raised $11 million for J Street and its political action committee.”

The story does not end there – rather, it continues down the murky paths of international finance to a Philippine woman resident in Hong Kong. Again, according to the Washington Times:

“The contributions represent a third of the group’s revenue from U.S. sources during the period. Nearly half of J Street’s revenue during the timeframe — a total of $811,697 — however, came from a single donor in Happy Valley, Hong Kong, named Consolacion Esdicul.”

So who is Consolacion Esdicul? According to the Washington Times:

“When asked about Ms. Esdicul, the Happy Valley, Hong Kong based donor of nearly half the group’s revenue for the 2008 to 2009 fiscal year, Mr. Ben Ami said she gave J Street the money in multiple wire transfers at the urging of William Benter, a Pittsburgh-based philanthropist and the chief executive officer of Acusis, a medical services firm.”

And who is William Benter? Well, according to reports, such as J Street Unmasked, the truth becomes even stranger:

“Of the $1.6 million received in contributions for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2009, $811,697 came from a mysterious Hong Kong woman of apparently Philippine background named Consolacion “Connie” Ediscul, who has been explained as “an associate” of an heretofore rather unknown William (Bill) Benter, who has been described – and most likely rightly so as the “most successful sports bettor in the world.”

Benter actually styles himself as Chairman & International CEO of Acusis (not CEO) and it may come as little surprise given the Philippine connection that the Acusis website states:

“Acusis is different than other transcription services because we offer US, India and Philippines based transcriptionists and editors.”

Benter and a former colleague, Alan Woods, apparently made fortunes by betting on horse races in Hong Kong using proprietary software they developed to evaluate the horses’ qualities and handicaps.

Meanwhile, back in Washington (I’ll get to the Guardian in a moment), J Street seems to be laboring under some handicaps of its own making.

Let me start with one of the Guardian’s former favorite sons, Dicky (Richard) Silverman. There is none as vicious as a spurned lover, as those who remember Dicky’s diatribe against Matt Seaton will recall from the time when Seaton struck him from the list of approved contributors to CiF.  Now Dicky – at his blog – has a go at his former love, J Street:

Washington Times Smears J Street Over Soros Gifts

“Before I begin this post let me make a few disclosures.  I once thought very highly of J Street.  I don’t anymore.  I think it’s a useful organization, but little more than that.  At one time, I believed it would be an independent progressive voice for a just Jewish approach to the Israeli-Arab conflict.  Instead, it has become a Jewish rooting section for the Obama presidency and its Middle East agenda or as Jeremy Ben Ami has proudly put it: ‘Obama’s blocking back.'”

Oh, dear. But it gets worse – J Street’s support, which in any event I think has been overstated, is evaporating.

It turns out that J Street was behind Goldstone’s visit to Capitol Hill and now, according to the Washington Times:

Colette Avital — a former member of Israel’s parliamentt, from the center-left Labor Party and until recently J Streets liaison in Israel — told The Washington Times that her decision to resign her post with J Street earlier this year was a result in part of the group’s “connection to Judge Goldstone.

The Times claims that the Jewish group falls from favor at White House and that “Revelation about funding sources prompts distancing from J Street”. Unfortunately for J Street, Mr. Soros has had some nasty things to say about American policy in the Middle East, and Mr. Obama does not approve.

Strangely enough, the Guardian has been silent about all this. The British newspaper has followed J Street’s anti-Israeli activities with breathless admiration, piling on at every opportunity with articles by Jewish writers. Even Tomasky, not a Jew, lent a hand. Running a search for “J Street” on the Guardian’s website turns up 31 articles since 2008 that mention J Street.  There is not one in the period after the Washington Times story broke despite the Guardian’s normal penchant to rush to print anything it can find about Israel. Well – anything negative, of course.

As it happens, just a few days before the Washington Times story broke, the UK’s Jewish Chronicle revealed that British left plans own Israel lobby: “The face of Israel advocacy in the UK could be changed by a group of young activists who plan to start a new campaign organisation inspired by the liberal American lobby group, J Street … Others involved include Guardian and JC columnist Jonathan Freedland.” Rachel Weisfield, a “key figure in the initiative”, has said:

“No-one has said ‘I am going to fund this organisation, or be on its board’… but there is lots of interest.”

If $11 million in Washington buys you access to the White House, I will eagerly await the Guardian article from Weisfield and Freedland explaining whether $11 million in London will buy access to No. 10 Downing St., and where the money they intend to raise comes from.  But in the meantime, the Guardian, which normally would have been all over this “initiative”, seems to have decided to remain “shtum”. A wise decision, under the circumstances.

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