The third annual J Street conference will have an unusual participant when it kicks off Saturday night: a high-level representative from the Israeli embassy.
After only sending a low-level officer who merely attended the first conference as an observer and then totally boycotting last year’s event, the participation of the number two at the embassy, DCM Barukh Binah, is quite a change.
The Israeli Embassy put out a brief statement Tuesday afternoon simply stating that Binah would be participating and making remarks (he is offering words of welcome at Monday night’s gala). But an Israeli official pointed to a “positive trend” with J Street’s orientation in the last year when asked by the JPost about the shift.
Whereas last year the organization told President Obama not to veto a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements, a resolution viewed by Israel as not only hostile but irredeemably one-sided, this year has seen J Street criticize Palestinian rocket attacks on southern Israel and support efforts to stop Iran’s nuclear program.
And then there was the blog post by J Street head Jeremy Ben-Ami – posted just the day before the Binah announcement – in which he openly criticized Peter Beinart’s op-ed published earlier that day in The New York Times.
Beinart called for a boycott of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, as well as a closer embrace of Israel proper, in order to save what he termed “democratic Israel” from “nondemocratic Israel.”
Beinart is a favored son of J Street and happens to be a featured speaker at the conference.
In the blog post, Ben-Ami says that while he agrees with “Peter’s sense of acute urgency over the need to end the occupation” and other policy points, “I don’t, however, agree with Peter that pressure on settlers and settlements through targeted boycotts and other measures will lead them to change course.”
The Israeli embassy and J Street surely still see differently on many issues, but they appear to agree that boycotts of one another are in neither side’s interest.
- Hilary Leila Krieger