J Street Hopes To Return Focus to Peace at Annual Conference

Peter Beinart, Ehud Olmert To Be Featured Speakers

Meeting of Minds: Some 2,500 people are expected at the third annual J Street conference, which begins March 24. Above, a panel discussion at last year’s gathering.
courtesy of j street
Meeting of Minds: Some 2,500 people are expected at the third annual J Street conference, which begins March 24. Above, a panel discussion at last year’s gathering.

By Nathan Guttman

Published March 25, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

As J Street, the self-styled pro-peace, pro-Israel lobby, opens its annual conference this year, it does so at a time of unparalleled growth for the group, and serious setbacks for its cause.

With talk of war with Iran dominating Israeli–American discourse, the dovish lobby is working hard to return the Palestinian issue to center stage.

Convincing the president, Congress and the Jewish community that there is a need for advancing Israel–Palestinian talks, even at a time when those bodies perceive other looming threats, will be a focus of J Street’s third annual conference. The gathering takes place in Washington on March 24–27, and it is expected to attract 2,500 people.

“What J Street will try to do is to make the point that it shouldn’t be a tradeoff, that it is not an either–or situation,” Jeremy Ben-Ami, the group’s president and founder, told the Forward on March 19.

The conference coincides with J Street’s fourth anniversary, and takes place at a time of major growth in the organization’s staff, donations and profile. But the meeting also takes place at what is arguably the Mideast peace process’s lowest point in years.

“The fact that everyone is talking about Iran has totally taken the wind out of the Palestinian issue,” said a Jewish community official who follows closely the Israeli–Palestinian peace process. The official, who spoke to the Forward on the condition of anonymity, described this move as a victory for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which is J Street’s key rival in the world of Jewish lobbying.

J Street has staked out a tough anti-war position regarding Iran, and has made clear it fully backs President Obama’s approach that now is the time for diplomacy, not for military action. This approach has set J Street and other dovish Jewish voices apart from the broader Jewish organized community, which has taken positions closer to those of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who stresses Israel’s right to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities.

J Street has grown into a $7 million operation with 50 people on staff. But it is still trying to find the right balance between its “inside the beltway” leadership, which holds more moderate views, and its vast grassroots operation that is home to many progressive activists whose beliefs are at times outside the Jewish community’s mainstream.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "My dear Penelope, when you accuse Israel of committing 'genocide,' do you actually know what you are talking about?"
  • What's for #Shabbat dinner? Try Molly Yeh's coconut quinoa with dates and nuts. Recipe here:
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.