The American Jewish lobby organization J Street was harshly criticized at a meeting of the Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs on Wednesday.
Committee chairman Danny Dannon (Likud) denied J Street's self-characterization as a pro-Israel group, claiming that it is only a pro-Palestinian group that does not care about Israel.
While right-wing party members uniformly condemned J Street, members of the center-right party Kadima were split over the organization, with some stating that although one might not agree with the positions taken by the group, it cannot be ignored just because it represents Jewish Americans who "think differently."
The leftist lobby group held its second annual conference in Washington, D.C. in February, with over 2,000 participants in attendance. The event was preceded by J Street's call to the U.S. government not to veto the UN Security Council resolution condemning continued West Bank settlement construction.
Several Knesset members from both the Kadima and Labor parties attended the J Street conference.
Kadima MK Nahman Shai was among the supporters of the leftist group, saying that "this discussion [about J Street] in the Knesset is unprecedented. Dialogue is important, and it has nothing to do with a Knesset committee."
The MK continued, saying that "J Street represents an important element of American society, and even though I do not necessarily agree with the group's opinions, I do accept the fact that they have the right to represent their position. They cannot be banned."
Labor MK Daniel Ben Simon also advocated on J Street's behalf, saying "as someone who attended the [J Street] conference, I can say that this is a pro-Israel, pro-Zionist organization, and I am proud to support them."
Ben Simon added, "when I spoke at their conference, I felt Israeli pride."
Some of the strongest words of condemnation came from Kadima MK Otniel Schneller, who told J Street representative David Gila, "You are not Zionists and you do not look out for Israel's interests. While 50 rockets a day are fired upon Israel, you fight against the American veto to condemn Israel."
Gila responded to Schneller's accusations, saying, "You cannot ignore the voices of a group of American Jews -- and we believe that we are the majority. We are Zionists and we care for Israel." He insisted that J Street provides a framework for liberal Jews to support Israel, even if they do not agree with the policies of the government.
Kadima MK Shlomo Molla felt that his character was attacked for having attended a recent J Street Conference. Addressing J Street's attackers, he said, "You have besmirched the names of all the MKs who traveled to the [J Street] conference. I am not willing to dismiss any Jew living in the Diaspora [for their political opinions]."
J Street launched a petition and letter writing campaign on Sunday calling on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to treat J Street and other pro-peace movements as allies.
J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami said in a letter that the petition is intended to convince Netanyahu "that it’s time to embrace our movement as an ally of Israel and to abandon efforts to push those who disagree with the government’s policy out of the communal tent."
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