J street 311.
(photo credit: J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE (AP))
WASHINGTON – More than 50 members of Congress are expected to attend J Street’s
second-annual conference here this weekend, with 200 offices receiving the
progressive group’s lobbyists during its visit to Capitol Hill on Tuesday,
according to the organization.
RELATED:J Street confab sparks schism in Kadima Birthright rejects J Street effort to co-sponsor trip Demonization, delegitimization, or just simple critique?
The number of federal lawmakers coming to
the conference gala on Monday night are slightly more than the 44 who came last
year, but well under the 148 lawmakers who served as a host committee at the
last conference. This year J Street has no host committee.
really is on bringing people to the conference. “We’re expecting to have
over 50 members of Congress [attend] and we’ll see J Street’s and this
movement’s growth at the conference and the gala itself,” J Street spokeswoman
Amy Spitalnick said.
She dismissed any connection between the lack of a
host committee and the controversy it generated last year, when several members
of Congress rescinded their participation.
Originally 160 members had
agreed to be on the host committee, but some prominent figures, including New
York Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, dropped out after saying
they hadn’t been aware of their inclusion on the list.
More recently, J
Street lost the backing of another key politician, Rep. Gary Ackerman of New
York, ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs’ Middle East subcommittee,
after the group opposed last Friday’s US veto of a UN Security Council draft
resolution condemning Israeli settlements, costing J Street Israeli support as
Spitalnick, however, credited the controversy over the host
committee’s composition last year with helping boost the numbers at that
conference, for which fewer than 1,000 people pre-registered but 1,500 ended up
attending. She pointed to a similar effect in Boston last fall, where an event
expected to garner 100 people to hear executive director Jeremy Ben-Ami speak
mushroomed to 450 audience members after the synagogue hosting the event
“I think it was that controversy that really excited and
motivated people to really come out and attend,” she said.
Reps. Lois Capps and Lynn Woolsey, North Carolina Rep. David Price, Tennessee
Rep. Steve Cohen and Colorado Rep. Jared Polis, the latter two of whom are
Jewish, will address the conference on Monday. The organization said it was not
able to release a list of those attending the gala or hosting the Capital Hill
meetings before the event itself.
This year, more than 2,000 activists,
religious leaders and students will participate, according to J Street. The last
group will increase from 200 last time to around 500 this weekend. And for the
first time, 40 local chapters around the US will also be represented, following
the launch of J Street’s grassroot effort last winter.
They will hear
from top White House Middle East adviser Dennis Ross, several Kadima and Labor
MKs and Palestinian officials. Among the latter will be PLO Ambassador to the US
Maen Areikat and Mustafa Barghouti, secretary-general of the Palestinian
Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren and other embassy
staff, however, will not be participating, for the second year in a
Following the J Street decision opposing the US veto of the UN
Security Council resolution, Oren reached out to Ben-Ami to explain he would not
be attending, according to embassy spokesman Jonathan Peled.
“They had a
very good and candid conversation,” he said, noting the embassy had hosted J
Street leadership during an equally candid meeting in the fall. “We will
continue to maintain a dialogue with this organization in the
“We feel that they’re missing an important opportunity to engage
with 2,000-plus pro- Israel, pro-peace Americans,” Spitalnick said. “We’ve made
every effort to engage with the embassy while acknowledging our differences of
opinion, and it’s a shame that they’ve chosen not to participate.”