President Barack Obama’s national security adviser, Gen. James Jones, delivered a keynote address on the final day of the J Street conference this afternoon. Jones, who drew cheers for saying he was “honored to represent” Obama at the left-leaning Israel lobby’s first convention, got the crowd to its feet by saying that he thought reaching a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians should be the president’s top foreign-policy priority, above all others. “The imperative for peace is now,” he went on, echoing a slogan repeated frequently here since Sunday.
Unfortunately for J Street, the blogosphere was alive with chatter about another issue altogether: the apparent desire among leaders of its student arm, J Street U, to shorten J Street’s ubiquitous “pro-peace, pro-Israel” slogan to just “pro-peace.” “We don’t want to isolate people because they don’t feel quite so comfortable with ‘pro-Israel,’ so we say ‘pro-peace,’” Lauren Barr, an American University junior and J Street intern who sits on J Street U’s board, told Jerusalem Post reporter Hilary Krieger. (On Sunday, at the opening session of the conference, Barr warned older people in the audience that people her age were being “driven away” from a vibrant relationship with Israel because of their doubts over the country’s handling of the Palestinian issue.) J Street’s executive director, Jeremy Ben Ami, told U.S. News and World Report’s religion blogger that he wanted to “honor” the questions some Jews have and didn’t seem to mind the change of mottos: “We can’t force them to use language that makes them uncomfortable.” But by this afternoon, J Street publicists were insisting that the original story was wrong, dismissing it as college students mouthing off, and referring reporters to a statement from J Street U director Tammy Shapiro, who reiterated the requirement that all work “be done in a context that always embraces the right of a state for Jewish people in the land of Israel to exist beside a state for Palestinian people in the land of Palestine.”
As it happens, Shapiro was also behind J Street’s decision to cancel a poetry session planned for the conference,after it emerged that some of the poets had made potentially offensive links between the Holocaust and Israel’s actions in Gaza. But, here’s the ironic part: the louder the bloggers gloat over every perceived stumble, the more enthusiastic, and righteous, the true believers at the Grand Hyatt seem to get. That’s politics, folks.