The 2012 J Street Conference, the annual convocation of America’s left-wing Jewish lobby, opened on a strident note this year. Renowned Israel author Amos Oz, who delivered a speech at the conference’s festive opening plenum, sounded radical and extreme, to the point of cursing, when he criticized AIPAC. There is no denying it. American Jewry is divided, and the J Street lobby, founded four years ago, reflects the liberal side of American Jewry.
Oz went so far as to describe AIPAC as radical, militant and aggressive. No less. “There is more than one way to be a good Jew,” he said. In response to Oz’s name-calling, I feel an obligation, as an Israeli, to say thank you to AIPAC. Thank you for your work over many decades on behalf the state of Israel and its governments, whether they were headed by Yitzhak Rabin, Yitzhak Shamir or Ehud Olmert.
All of these prime ministers, as well as others, successfully exploited AIPAC’s influence on Congress. While J Street does not see eye to eye with the Netanyahu government on the Palestinians or the settlements, it does reflect a Jewish constituency - Democratic supporters of Obama, who, like their president, are opposed to settlements. Consequently, this time Jerusalem decided to send an official Israeli representative to the J Street conference - Israel’s deputy ambassador in Washington D.C. In the past, at Jerusalem’s behest, the embassy boycotted J Street conferences.
But more importantly, the U.S. administration also sent two senior representatives to the J Street conference: Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser to the president, and Tony Blinken, national security adviser to Vice President Biden. In other words, both the Israeli government and the Obama administration are signaling to J Street that they recognize its existence. It’s a shame that J Street is returning the favor by embracing Oz’ shrill style. He essentially took the harsh rhetoric of Israeli politics and transferred it to the Washington Convention Center.
Of course, J Street does not have the same clout as its more veteran, older sister AIPAC. The leftist lobby will have to work hard to achieve AIPAC’s level of influence. The state of Israel is going to need all the supporters it can get, on both the Right and Left, including the tens of millions of Evangelical Christians in the United States. But it’s not advisable for Israel to deepen the legitimate gaps that exist among U.S. Jews.