J Street conference aims ‘to put two-state solution back on the map’ (TIMES OF ISRAEL) By ARI BEN GOLDBERG 03/23/12)
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The ‘pro-Israel, pro-peace’ lobby kicks off its third annual meet on
Saturday, complete with a welcome video by Shimon Peres; speakers
include Ehud Olmert, Amos Oz, Valerie Jarrett, Peter Beinart
When J Street’s annual conference begins on Saturday night March 24
in Washington, DC, the self-described ‘pro-Israel, pro-peace’ lobby
will host fewer than a quarter of the number of participants who
attended AIPAC’s convention three weeks ago (in the same space). But
the gathering is likely to produce an equivalent amount of attention.
Take, for instance, one of the American Jewish community’s most
polarizing figures, Peter Beinart, who recently took to the pages of
the New York Times calling for a boycott of Israeli goods from the
West Bank. The former editor of The New Republic will launch his most
recent book, ‘The Crisis of Zionism,’ at the J-Street conference. In
it, Beinart argues that the American Jewish community’s traditional
approach to supporting Israel is alienating young liberal Jews from
Zionism and threatens to erase the liberal Zionist dream entirely.
(See positive reviews here and here. Critical reviews here and here).
Former prime minister Ehud Olmert headlines the Monday gala dinner
along with Anat Hoffman, who heads the legal and advocacy arm of the
Reform Movement in Israel. The conference gets underway Saturday
night with three Israelis from three generations who, according to J
Street, “are shaping the history of their country”: author Amos Oz;
Yeruham Mayor Michael Biton; and Stav Shaffir, one of the leaders of
last summer’s social protests in Israel.
J Street has also announced that a senior advisor to President Obama,
Valerie Jarrett, will deliver a keynote address on Monday. The
administration will also be represented by National Security Advisor
to the Vice President, Tony Blinken.
“This level of representation by the Administration is a strong re-
affirmation of its support for the role that J Street plays in
representing many Jewish Americans in the debates over Israel in the
political and policy worlds,” says J Street founder and President
But the conference, and J Street generally, has its critics in the
American Jewish community, particularly on the right. The Emergency
Committee for Israel (ECI), an advocacy group backed by noted
neoconservative and The Weekly Standard editor William Kristol,
openly questions J Street’s pro-Israel bona fides.
“J Street still has not managed to find solutions to a couple of
basic problems,” says ECI Executive Director Noah Pollak, whose group
is perhaps best-known for its full-page ads in The New York Times and
bus-stop billboards attacking President Obama’s Middle East
policies. “The first is the group’s anti-Israel instincts, which were
again on display when J Street’s statement on the recent flare-up
between Israel and Gaza falsely accused the IDF of killing a dozen
civilians — when in fact, as was widely reported at the time, only
terrorists were killed. You have to have pretty awful feelings about
Israel to make such an assumption.”
“Another problem is that the group’s base ranges from anti-Israel to
ambivalent-about-Israel, and there just isn’t much desire in
Washington or in the Jewish community to make common cause with such
people. You can paper over this reality by saying you’re pro-Israel,
but as evidence piles up to the contrary people stop believing it,”
But Ben-Ami says J Street has established itself as a permanent part
of the Jewish American landscape.
“In our early years J Street’s challenge was to prove that one could
be both pro-Israel and pro-peace,” he says. “Now our challenge is to
lead the pro-Israel movement into the future under the only banner
that can give Israel security as the democratic, Jewish homeland:
Bold action in support of a two-state solution.”
“Combined with the welcoming video from President Shimon Peres and
the presence of a senior representative of the Israeli Embassy at the
conference, I think it’s clear that J Street has established itself
as a permanent and important part of the mainstream American dialogue
on Israel,” adds Ben-Ami.
Organizers say there will be 40 workshops at the J Street conference
on issues such as Iran, the American Jewish vote, settlements, human
rights, and Palestinian perspectives on the conflict.
Other notables participating in the four-day conference, which is
expected to attract about 2500 people, include: Members of Knesset
Avishay Braverman, Zehava Golan, and Raleb Maja; former Labor Party
leader General Amram Mitzna; The Embassy of Israel’s Deputy Head of
Mission, Barukh Binah; former US ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer;
former US State Department official Anne-Marie Slaughter; Rabbi
Donniel Hartman of Jerusalem’s Shalom Hartman Institute; and veteran
Hollywood icon Theodore Bikel, who will be the master of ceremonies.
(© 2012 THE TIMES OF ISRAEL 03/23/12)
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