William Kristol, head of right-wing Emergency Committee for Israel, stuns debate audience in New York: 'I agree with Obama’s Israel policies to a considerable degree.'
By Chemi Shalev | May.16, 2012 | 3:07 PM

Many American senators and congressmen “keep quiet” and refrain from criticizing Israeli policies because they “live in fear” and are “intimidated” by pro-Israeli groups such as the Emergency Committee for Israel (ECI), according to J Street founder and President Jeremy Ben-Ami.

Ben-Ami’s bald assertion came during a debate with Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol, a director of ECI, held on Tuesday night at Manhattan’s palatial B’nai Jeshurun Synagogue and moderated by Jane Eisner, the editor of the Forward. Ben Ami said that because of accusatory ECI ads in the New York Times and other media outlets, members of Congress are afraid of being branded as pro-Israel and are deterred by the “ramifications” of voicing open criticism of Israeli policies.

It was a rare moment of tension in an otherwise civil and even friendly debate, which pitted representatives of the two diametrically opposed poles of the current Jewish debate on Israel – the controversial lobby J Street on the left and the no-less contentious Emergency Committee on the right. The crowd of 700-800, mainly from Manhattan’s Upper West Side, clearly favored Ben Ami’s positions though they were obviously pleased by Kristol’s agreement to debate him.

More to come