1,500 back launch of US ‘peace’ lobby

The Jewish Chronicle - - World News - BYNATHANGUTTMAN WASH­ING­TON

“THIS IS TRULY a birth of a move­ment,” de­clared Jeremy Ben-Ami, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of J Street, the dovish Is­rael lobby, at his group’s first ever na­tional con­fer­ence.

For Mr Ben-Ami, the three-day par­ley in Wash­ing­ton DC, which brought to­gether 1,500 ac­tivists, was a suc­cess. It at­tracted at­ten­tion from the me­dia and the for­eign pol­icy com­mu­nity, gained a stamp of ap­proval from the ad­min­is­tra­tion and many mem­bers of Congress, and over­came a boy­cott by the Is­raeli am­bas­sador to Wash­ing­ton.

“A lot of peo­ple felt very alone, but now, know­ing that we are here will em­power them,” said Mr Ben-Ami.

The 18-month-old lobby got a boost by the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s de­ci­sion to send a high-level of­fi­cial. Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­viser James Jones promised the au­di­ence: “You can be sure that this ad­min­is­tra­tion will be rep­re­sented in all fu­ture con­fer­ences of this or­gan­i­sa­tion.”

Sup­port also poured in from Con- gress, as 150 mem­bers joined the list of spon­sors. How­ever, 10 did with­draw, re­port­edly due to pres­sure from more hawk­ish pro-Is­rael ac­tivists. In ad­di­tion, Is­rael’s em­bassy in Wash­ing­ton sent a low-level diplo­mat to mon­i­tor the talks, but Am­bas­sador Michael Oren re­fused to at­tend.

Is­raeli op­po­si­tion law­mak­ers at the event crit­i­cised Mr Oren for boy­cotting the group be­cause of its crit­i­cal ap­proach to Ne­tanyahu gov­ern­ment pol­icy.

“We also crit­i­cise the gov­ern­ment,” said MK Shlomo Molla from Kadima.

The or­gan­i­sa­tion at­tracted fur­ther crit­i­cism af­ter it emerged that its stu­dent arm dropped the “pro-Is­rael” part of its “pro-Is­rael, pro-peace” slo­gan.

Cal­i­for­nian Bob Fil­ner told par­tic­i­pants that he and other law­mak­ers had been in­tim­i­dated by Jewish donors who threat­ened to pull funds from their po­lit­i­cal cam­paigns if they did not vote in line with the views of the main­stream pro-Is­rael lobby, Aipac. J Street aims to pro­vide th­ese law­mak­ers with al­ter­na­tive funds in the 2010 elec­tion cy­cle.

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