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!
  • “I don’t want to say, ‘Oh oh, I’m not Jewish,’ because when you say that, you sound like someone trying to get into a 1950s country club, “and I love the idea of being Jewish." Are you a fan of Seth Meyers?
  • "If you want my advice: more Palestinians, more checkpoints, just more reality." What do you think?
  • Happy birthday Barbra Streisand! Our favorite Funny Girl turns 72 today.
  • Clueless parenting advice from the star of "Clueless."
  • Why won't the city give an answer?
  • BREAKING NEWS: Israel has officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Can you guess what the most boring job in the army is?
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • 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.