Dennis Ross, the senior adviser to President Obama on Middle East issues, will address this year’s J Street conference, the group said.
Ross, seen as an administration hard-liner on Iran and as arguing for greater consideration of Israel’s needs in peace negotiations, would be a coup for the group, which consistently has come under fire from the right and from some Democrats for not being sufficiently pro-Israel.
The White House did not immediately comment on J Street’s announcement.
The group, which describes itself as “pro-Israel and pro-peace,” also said that Michael Oren, the Israeli ambassador to Washington, would not participate or allow embassy staff to participate in the Feb. 26-March 1 confab.
Oren’s spokesman, Jonathan Peled, told JTA that the decision stemmed from J Street’s urging the United States not to exercise its veto if and when the U.N. Security Council considers a resolution condemning Israel’s settlement policy. A number of other groups and a range of Congress members of both parties have urged a veto.
J Street opposes bringing the settlement issue to the United Nations in part because of the body’s anti-Israel bias, but also says a veto would damage U.S. credibility because the resolution is written to hew closely to U.S. policy, which also opposes settlements.
Oren called J Street director Jeremy Ben Ami last week to give him his decision, Peled said.
“The ambassador said he is open to continued conversation with J Street on ways it might support Israel,” he said.
J Street has suffered a number of reversals in recent months.
Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.), one of the highest-profile Jewish lawmakers taking J Street donations, cut off the group over the issue of the U.N. veto, and last year The Washington Times revealed that Ben Ami had misled reporters in denying that liberal financier George Soros had donated money to the group.
J Street faced similar controversies before its first conference in 2009, when a coordinated campaign by neoconservatives pressured Republican and conservative Democratic Congress members into withdrawing sponsorship of the conference.
Notably, J Street this year has dropped any attempt to garner such sponsorships.