Taking the J Street challenge

Taking the J Street challenge

Charles Jacobs screens film, answers questions in Teaneck next week

Charles Jacobs, center, helped free many people, including those shown here, from slavery in Sudan. He also advocates for Israel in his role as an international civil rights spokesman. Courtesy Charles Jacobs

“The J Street Challenge: The Seductive Allure of Peace In Our Time,” is a controversial film that examines the left-leaning organization through a right-of-center lens. Its producer, Dr. Charles Jacobs, will answer questions after the screening.

Dr. Jacobs, who was born in Newark and now lives in the Boston area, is an international civil-rights activist who co-founded the David Project, the American Anti-Slavery Group, and Americans for Peace and Tolerance.

The Jewish Standard spoke with him by phone in Denver, during a multicity tour of his controversial film, which premiered last February in Miami to a standing-room-only crowd.

The documentary presents comments and analyses from academics and writers critical of the leaning and activities of J Street, the nonprofit liberal advocacy group whose stated aim is to “promote American leadership to end the Arab-Israeli and Israel-Palestinian conflicts peacefully and diplomatically.”

During the Gaza war in July and August, J Street was one of few Jewish organizations with nationwide chapters that opted not to participate in community events in support of Israel. In May, in a controversial move, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations voted not to admit J Street as a member.

Opinion-makers featured in “The J Street Challenge,” including recently retired Harvard Law School Professor Alan Dershowitz and Pulitzer Prize-winning Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens, assert that J Street disproportionally blames Israel for the lack of peace. It ignores Palestinian incitement and the historical context of the conflict, they charge.

The film investigates J Street’s background, its affiliations, and its founder, former Clinton administration domestic policy adviser Jeremy Ben-Ami. It looks as well at its funding from convicted insider-trading multibillionaire George Soros.

“We try to bring the film to Jewish venues such as JCCs, but sometimes we are blocked by J Street, and that is a big problem,” said Dr. Jacobs, who probably is best known for his part in an interfaith effort that successfully redeemed slaves in Sudan 15 years ago. “In the places where J Street has been accepted into the ‘big tent,’ they find it easier to block our film. Part of what we talk about after the screenings is how J Street is trying to stop the discussion of our challenge to its claims.”

The Teaneck showing is co-sponsored by the New Jersey chapter of the Zionist Organization of America, StandWithUs, and the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America.

“Our strategy was not to put the film on YouTube or sell it on Amazon, but to have broad community discussions at Jewish Community Relations Councils, JCCs, rented halls, campus venues or movie theaters, in order to get hundreds of people in one room to discuss it together,” Dr. Jacobs said.

“J Street had been sending out spokespeople around the country to present its point of view, and if you saw it and disagreed, it’s not easy to call Alan Dershowitz or Caroline Glick and say, ‘Come debate these people.’ We provide the Jewish community with a collection of eloquent, prominent spokespeople from left to right to discuss it, and people really enjoy that.”

At screenings where Dr. Jacobs leads the Q&A session, he makes a point of inviting J Street supporters to the stage. These sessions can last as long as the movie, he said, noting that the audience usually isn’t monolithic in its opinions.

“There are real political divisions in the Jewish community today,” he said. “I wouldn’t call it a Jewish civil war, but the positions are getting harder on the right and the left because of the intensity of the reality.”

Typical questions range from “How did people let J Street into the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston when they knew it was funded by George Soros?” to “Why won’t Jeremy Ben-Ami debate you?” to “What can we do to win back our Jewish youth, who seem to be so naïve?” Dr. Jacobs said. “I have private meetings with community activists as we travel around, and I see a lot of people are very frustrated that the organizations that are supposed to take care of us are not functioning well, and they’re looking for guidance in activism.”

On September 7, the New York Post featured Dr. Jacobs in an article that revealed that the Islamic State’s head of social media belongs to a mosque in Cambridge. That mosque, the story said, was welcomed by many in the Boston area’s Jewish community, even though Americans for Peace and Tolerance had exposed its Saudi Arabian funding and its radical Islamist ties. This is the same mosque that the Boston Marathon bombers attended.

“We are excited to bring this film because it exposes the truth about J Street, which falsely calls itself pro-Israel when in fact it is hostile to Israel,” Laura Fein, the ZOA’s New Jersey executive director, said. “We saw that this summer, when J Street groups refused to rally with the entire Jewish community to support Israel during the war.

“J Street receives millions from anti-Zionist sources, including George Soros, and lied about it. It repeatedly gives a platform to Boycott, Divestment and Sanction advocates who seek to harm Israel economically, and it partners with anti-Israel individuals and organizations who are openly dedicated to eliminating Israel as a Jewish state. If you support the Israeli left, you owe it to yourself to come see how J Street differs and aligns itself with enemies of Israel.”

“And if you have a more centrist or right-leaning perspective, you need to learn the facts so you know what you, and your kids on campus, are up against.”

What: “The J Street Challenge: The Seductive Allure of Peace In Our Time,” a film produced by Dr. Charles Jacobs

Where: Will be screened at the Cedar Lane Cinema in Teaneck

When: On Wednesday, September 17, at 8 p.m. A reception will begin at 7:30, and a question-and-answer period will follow the screening.

How: The patrons’ reception with Dr. Jacobs costs $25 per person and includes tickets, which cost $12.50 each. To reserve tickets, go to jstchallengetnk.eventbrite.com, email Laura Fein at lfein@zoa.org, or go to (201) 424-1825.

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