J Street leader responds to financing disclosures in Washington Times
Editor’s Note: Jeremy Ben-Ami, founder of J Street, sent a letter to his organization’s supporters, with copies to the media, following disclosures in the Washington Times about the sources of the organization’s finances:
By Jeremy Ben-Ami
Within the past 48 hours, you may have heard that the Washington Times published a confidential J Street tax return, containing private information about some of our donors.
I write to provide an explanation, to assume responsibility, and to put the whole matter in perspective in light of critically important events taking place this week on the world stage related to Israel and the Middle East.
You and I have built something spectacular in J Street. Our success has been phenomenal. In just two and a half years, our three legally independent entities (J Street, J Street Education Fund and JStreetPAC) have raised more than $11 million from over 10,000 donors.
As with so many non-profits, our work depends in part on the generosity and support of our largest donors. Among them are individuals who have provided six-figure financial support and foundations providing major grants to support the work of our Education Fund.
George Soros and his family decided to donate to J Street in the fall of 2008, well after our launch and two years after he publicly stated that it would not be helpful for him to assist in getting the effort off the ground. The family contributed an average of $250,000 per year over the last three years (2008-2010) and their support amounts to just over 7 percent of the total funds raised by the J Street family of organizations.
I accept responsibility personally for being less than clear about Mr. Soros’ support once he did become a donor. I said Mr. Soros did not help launch J Street or provide its initial funding, and that is true. I also said we would be happy to take his support. But I did not go the extra step to add that he did in fact start providing support in the fall of 2008, six months after our launch.
J Street does not reveal the names of donors to its 501(c)(4) corporation or the amounts of their contributions. Neither do nearly all such entities in the United States. The law guarantees donors their privacy and confidentiality. Nevertheless, my answers regarding Mr. Soros were misleading. I deeply and genuinely apologize for that and for any distraction from J Street’s important work created by my actions and decisions.
Some press reports have also noted a large contribution on our return from a resident of Hong Kong named Consolacion Esdicul. The explanation for this is straightforward. Bill Benter, a philanthropist and political activist from Pittsburgh, is a major supporter of and contributor to J Street. He is a generous donor to a range of causes related to his hometown, national politics and the Arab-Israeli conflict, and a passionate advocate for peace.
As we were launching J Street, Bill committed to contribute and to help raise substantial funds for the effort should we get it off the ground. One contribution he helped raise was from Ms. Esdicul, a business associate from Hong Kong, where he lives for part of the year and has business holdings.
The Esdicul contribution represents a significant portion of the one tax filing that was leaked – and seems high when viewed in isolation – but it represents just over 7 percent of the $11 million raised by all aspects of J Street since it was launched.
Having reviewed the facts and accepted responsibility for this situation, I will now be direct about our critics.
Those who attack J Street over the sources of its funding are not good government watchdogs concerned about the state of non-profit financing in the United States. If our critics are really so concerned with transparency of funding, then I challenge them to reveal the sources of funds for the organizations with which they agree.
In reality, our opponents are on the other side of a broader ideological battle over American and Israeli policy, looking for any excuse to avoid debating the merits of the issues. They are defending an indefensible status quo and would lead us to a future that ensures perpetual conflict and violence, not long-term security for Israel or the United States.
J Street is providing hope for those who’ve lost it on this issue and a voice for those who feel they have been silenced. We’re giving inspiration to moderate Israelis and, yes, to Palestinians who still believe there is a way to live side-by-side in two states in peace and security.
We’ve built a base of 160,000 supporters, established local groups in 35 communities and on over 50 college campuses. Our 45 staff are in 8 cities around the country.
We’ve tapped into a pent-up longing in the Jewish community and beyond for a home that marries a love of Israel with a deep desire for long-term peace and security through a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
And a lot of people don’t like that. They attack us as anti-Israel. As self-hating Jews. They equate us with the worst enemies of the Jewish people – even as we fight for what we believe is the only way to save Israel’s Jewish and democratic soul.
The leak of our tax return at this moment is less than helpful, I know, in keeping our eye on the real challenge we face: ensuring we seize this historic opportunity to bring the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to a peaceful conclusion.
I am positive we will look back at this as a defining moment in the story of Israel and the Middle East during our lifetimes. Our leaders – here and in the region – face the choice of their lives at a fundamental fork in the road of history.
Let’s focus on the real issues at hand, the historic nature of the moment.
And let’s get on with our work.
Preceding provided by J Street