J Street kicks off annual Washington conference

Valerie Jarret added to speakers list; Danon: Lobby serves Iranian interests, tells MKs not to attend.

March 25, 2012 02:03
2 minute read.
Valerie Jarrett

Valerie Jarrett_370. (photo credit: Reuters)


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Senior White House adviser Valerie Jarrett was added on Friday to the list of speakers to address the J Street conference opening here this weekend.

She joins Tony Blinken, national security adviser to Vice President Joe Biden, in representing the administration before the 2,500 activists the progressive Jewish lobby is expecting to host at its third annual conference.

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They will appear at a plenary session Monday asking whether the US can help to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, though Jarrett usually focuses on domestic issues in her role at the White House.

Later that day, at the gala dinner, J Street activists will hear from former prime minister Ehud Olmert, who joins four current Labor and Meretz members of the Knesset at the conference as well as a handful of other Israeli political and social leaders.

In addition, for the first time the Israeli Embassy will send a high-level participant. Barukh Binah, the deputy chief of mission, will offer opening remarks at the gala dinner.

An Israeli official pointed to recent steps that J Street has taken that show a “positive trend” in its positions, which have often been criticized by the Israeli government. He pointed in particular to J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami’s rejection of journalist Peter Beinart’s call for a boycott of West Bank settlements – in contrast to Israel proper – published on Monday in The New York Times.

Beinart, however, is still being welcomed at the conference and will hold a book signing for his new work, The Crisis of Zionism.

Novelist Amos Oz will be another participating offer, and he is set to speak at the opening session Saturday night.

The conference runs through Tuesday, when the participants will head to Capitol Hill to lobby their members of Congress on the need for the US to continue pushing for a twostate solution and to push back against those would question the US role for political purposes – understood to be aimed at Republican presidential candidates who have criticized many of President Barack Obama’s policies on Israel.

A J Street spokeswoman would not specify whether J Street constituents would have a letter making these points for members of Congress to circulate and sign on to, which is traditionally a component of such lobbying.

Five members of Congress are scheduled to address the gathering, including Democrats Barbara Lee of California and Jim McGovern of Massachusetts.

J Street estimates that about 60 members of Congress will participate in the conference, including at the panels, the gala and the pre-lobby welcome event on Capitol Hill on Tuesday morning, roughly the same as last year.

MK Danny Danon (Likud) sent a letter to all 120 members of Knesset on Friday, telling them to stay away the J Street conference.

“Promoting Iranian interests in the US, working against the state in its battle against the Palestinians in the UN and censuring the Israeli government while supporting the Palestinians are only the tip of the iceberg for the anti-Israel organization called J Street,” Danon wrote.

The Likud MK said that it is the duty of all MKs to reject any connection with an organization that works against Israeli interests.

Senior officials’ participation legitimizes J Street’s “destructive messages,” Danon said.

Interior Minister Eli Yishai last week urged Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman not to allow high-ranking officials to attend the conference.

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