J Street welcomes you

(Follow JVP’s Twitter feed at the J Street conference at http://twitter.com/jvplive )

The J Street Conference opened yesterday, with over 1,000 people at the table.

The first plenary session was hosted by Jeremy Ben-Ami (J Street) and Daniel Sokatch (New Israel Fund). Jeremy started by reading letters of support from Israeli President Shimon Peres and Israeli opposition leader, Tsipi Livni — a tacit response to the Israeli Ambassador to the US, who had decided to boycott the conference; apparently the Ambassador only goes to AIPAC dinners and the like.

Jeremy and Daniel have both been the target of attacks from the right: Jeremy at J Street and Daniel at his previous post at the San Francisco Federation. In Daniel’s case:

Sokatch found himself smack in the middle of a melee over San Francisco’s Jewish film festival when its organizers decided to screen a film about Rachel Corrie, the pro-Palestinian activist who was killed when she lay down in front of an Israeli bulldozer about to raze Palestinian homes, and invite Corrie’s mother to speak at the event without presenting other viewpoints. That was not Sokatch’s doing and he publicly criticized the decision to invite only Corrie’s mother to speak (a pro-Israel speaker was added later). But the backlash fell squarely on his shoulders.

More recently, Sokatch irked some leaders of the San Francisco community when he agreed to speak at the annual conference of J Street, a new organization that has lobbied for U.S pressure on Israel (and the Palestinians) and criticized Israel’s invasion of Gaza.

It should come as no surprise then, that when they both spoke publicly yesterday, they seemed to have been borrowing a page from Muzzlewatch. Jeremy talked about widening the tent, about respect and tolerance for others. He welcomed everyone to the conference.

(Everyone, except for disinvited poets Josh Healey and Kevin Coval)

Daniel looked at the audience and added, We are not the margins of our community, we are the mainstream… Nobody has a monopoly of what it means to be pro-Israel.

Jeremy affirmed that the creation of a Palestinian state is a core pro-Israel position.

It was a good opening night. The question remains whether those that are both pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian will fit into this wider tent.

– Sydney Levy

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