Skip To Content
JEWISH. INDEPENDENT. NONPROFIT.
News

Walk-ins, No-Shows, Boos and Cheers

A Tight Squeeze

It’s one of the oldest tricks in the book: When planning an event, make sure the room is a little too small for the number of people you are expecting; that way, the room will always be full. But as J Street began its inaugural national conference October 26 at a Washington hotel, the rooms were way too crowded to suspect any deliberate underestimation. Organizers expected little more than 1,000 participants, but as the doors opened, the numbers grew. Walk-ins brought the number of conference participants to 1,500. A huge success for J Street, it was a big problem for those who tried to make it into the breakout sessions packed beyond capacity.


Oren’s Absence

According to Israel’s American embassy, concerns over J Street’s policies have led its ambassador, Michael Oren, to turn down the invitation to join the conference. The Israeli Embassy, however, did send a representative “to monitor” the proceedings. It was Galit Baram, counselor for public and academic affairs. In terms of diplomatic rank, she is two levels below the head of mission — a fact that sent a clear message from Israel to J Street.


Israel’s Presence

Despite Oren’s boycott, a handful of Knesset members showed their support and were united in their criticism of the Israeli Embassy’s conduct. Nitzan Horowitz of Meretz reminded ambassador Oren that “U.S. Jews don’t work for [Benjamin] Netanyahu and [Avigdor] Lieberman. The government of Israel must acknowledge the diversity of views in the American Jewish community.” And Meir Sheetrit of Kadima called Oren’s decision “very odd,” adding that he had never heard of boycotting a Jewish organization.


Behind Closed Doors

A closed-door meeting with the Israeli officials was dedicated to presenting the Israelis with J Street’s beliefs and the polls it has conducted on the views of American Jews. The purpose, said one of the participants, was to show the Israeli public that U.S. Jews are much more dovish than Israelis may think. But for J Street officials it was also an opportunity to learn how Israelis see the dovish lobby.

At the meeting, the Israelis said J Street was mistaken in opposing sanctions against Iran, and in its approach toward the Goldstone report, the recent U.N. inquiry into the Gaza military conflict. Jeremy Ben-Ami, J Street’s executive director, said that his lobby does not oppose sanctions against Iran, but believes that now is not the time for moving them forward. He also explained that J Street opposes the Goldstone report, in which Israel is accused of war crimes, but calls for an independent Israeli inquiry.

Yoffie Garners Boos, Applause

It is not every day that Rabbi Eric Yoffie gets booed by a lefty crowd. But that is one of the risks when standing up as a keynote speaker at a J Street conference. Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, was one of the earliest critics of J Street; in a Forward column published on January 9, he chastised J Street’s opposition to the Israeli military operation in Gaza. On the first day of the conference, Yoffie shared the stage with Ben-Ami for a discussion moderated by the Forward’s editor, Jane Eisner. The boos came after Yoffie condemned Richard Goldstone, saying he should be “ashamed of himself.” The audience didn’t like the harsh tone, although J Street, as a group, also expressed reservations about the Goldstone report. The J Street gathering wasn’t an easy ride for Yoffie, but he left the hall with the crowd applauding, and he received a warm embrace from Ben-Ami.

Contact Nathan Guttman at [email protected]

I hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, I’d like to ask you to please support the Forward’s award-winning, nonprofit journalism during this critical time.

Now more than ever, American Jews need independent news they can trust, with reporting driven by truth, not ideology. We serve you, not any ideological agenda.

At a time when other newsrooms are closing or cutting back, the Forward has removed its paywall and invested additional resources to report on the ground from Israel and around the U.S. on the impact of the war, rising antisemitism and the protests on college campuses.

Readers like you make it all possible. Support our work by becoming a Forward Member and connect with our journalism and your community.

Make a gift of any size and become a Forward member today. You’ll support our mission to tell the American Jewish story fully and fairly. 

— Rachel Fishman Feddersen, Publisher and CEO

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.