Nearly 2,500 peaceniks came together Saturday night at the Convention Center in Washington, D.C., for the third annual conference of leftist pro-Israel lobby, J Street. In the upcoming two days, the participants will listen to speeches, participate in debates, pray, and brainstorm together - until the traditional finale – the storming Congressional offices on Tuesday, trying to make the case for both Israel and peace.
J Street is still young, although some conclusions can be already be made about the organization. They did help change a discourse on Israel in the Jewish-American community but less so on Capitol Hill and the White House.
In 2012, during a very different election year, Barack Obama made a speech at the annual AIPAC conference, attended by 13,000 people. At J Street’s conference, the U.S. administration will only be represented by Vice-President Joe Biden’s National Security Advisor and President Obama’s senior advisor Valerie Jarrett. At the AIPAC conference, both Israeli President Shimon Peres and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke. J Street conference attendants will have to make do with Peres’s video address complemented by one by deputy head of the mission of the Israeli Embassy in Washington. This is certainly an improvement, since last year there was no one representing the embassy.
But the crowd at J Street did not come to hear officials’ speeches and the repetition of the slogans regarding “ironclad,” “sacrosanct” or “unshakeable” support for Israel. They came to hear activists like Stav Shaffir, one of the intrepid leaders of Israel’s social protest movement. They came to hear about the real Israel, with its internal struggles, threats and fears.
Lobby founder, Jeremy Ben-Ami, boasted that this year, there was 25% increase in registration for the conference. Student activists opened the conference, calling out the names of the universities that sent young Jewish activist to Washington this weekend. However, Ben-Ami admitted that many stayed home this year as it is hard to have hope under the current conditions.
“We are dissatisfied with the status-quo. The status quo is simply not sustainable,” Ben-Ami says. “Give the land for the Palestinian state, or keep the land and sacrifice the democratic and Jewish nature of Israel. The history of our era rests in no one’s hands, but our own. What we are going to do with the closing window of the two-state solution? There is a cause for despair - the Israeli government is paying lip service to the peace process - undermining it on the ground with settlements expansion.”
For more, go to Haaretz.com