J Street gala panel boasts long list of congressional names

J Street gala panel boas

WASHINGTON - Some 160 members of Congress have signed on to the host committee of J Street's first annual conference this October, the organization announced Wednesday. The year-and-a-half-old, self-described "pro-Israel, pro-peace" lobby will feature former Republican senator Chuck Hagel as its keynote speaker for the gala dinner it will be holding - one of only a handful of Republicans on the list of congressional sponsors for the event. In announcing the conference, J Street also listed Democratic Sen. John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as another keynote speaker. However, a Kerry spokesman told The Jerusalem Post that the announcement was premature, as Kerry had not yet confirmed his attendance. A J Street organizer acknowledged the error, but stressed the organization's hope that he would accept the invitation. The Israeli Embassy also had yet to respond to J Street's invitation that the ambassador participate. The host committee, which is separate from the list of members planning to attend the conference, includes several members of Congress known for their staunch support of Israel, including Democrats Jane Harman and Henry Waxman of California, and Steve Israel of New York. The committee also includes some representatives perceived in many quarters as hostile toward Israel, including Democrats Dennis Kucinich of Ohio and Jim Moran of Virginia. The announcement notes that one-third of the Senate and House Foreign Affairs Committee were on the committee, though missing from the list were the latter's chairman, Howard Berman, and Middle East subcommittee chairman, Gary Ackerman. Ackerman, one of the few members of Congress who responded to a Post request for comment about the event, used the Yiddish phrase meaning "I can't dance at every wedding" to explain his absence. Still, J Street expressed satisfaction at the lengthy list of names for the gala, which is the capstone event for the four-day conference exploring the situation in the Middle East, the US-Israel relationship and how activists can most effectively pursue the group's agenda on Capitol Hill. "The depth and breadth of our host committee demonstrates the growing support in Congress and nationally for strong US leadership in pursuit of a peaceful, diplomatic resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-Arab conflicts," said Jeremy Ben-Ami, J Street's executive director, in a statement.