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Rabbi Hartman, while making the case for self-defense as a moral obligation of the Jewish people, called for a “nuanced conversation” on the use of power and the need to make room for other voices in the pro-Israel field. “If we’re going to learn to love Israel together we’re going to have to contract,” he said, “to contract our certainty, to contract our language.”
It was a more cautious formulation of a message delivered a day earlier by Israeli author and Amos Oz, who said in a speech opening the J Street conference, that “no one can claim Zionism for themselves.” Oz, however, did not leave any room for doubt regarding the views thinks American Jews should adopt when supporting Israel. “Let us all be united,” he said, “but why unite under the militant, hawkish, extremist banner of AIPAC?” he asked, referring to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
The J Street conference, which is taking place at the Washington Convention Center, is populated by many young activists. College students make up nearly a quarter of the participants. While at the lobby’s first and second annual conferences, much was made of the presence of activists from the far left, this criticism seems to have subsided as J Street gradually inched closer to the center and more radical activists found their way out of the organization.
An outcome of this moderation is growing cooperation between the lobby and Israel’s embassy in Washington. When J Street was founded, nearly four years ago, it was shunned by the embassy and by other officials from the Israeli government. This year, Israel’s second-in-rank diplomat in Washington will address the gathering.
“They have said some positive things,” said an Israeli official, who noted the group’s opposition to all types of boycott, including the limited measures offered by Beinart, and its opposition to last year’s Palestinian bid for statehood, as positive steps.
Landing a high-level speaker from the Obama administration, however, proved to be a difficult task. The White House, will send Tony Blinkin, who is the national security adviser to vice president Biden, and Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser to President Obama.
Earlier this month, when AIPAC held its annual conference, the administration was represented by President Obama himself as well as by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.