About 1,000 people arrived last night at a Washington, D.C., Hyatt for the opening night of the first national conference hosted by the liberal pro-Israel lobby group J Street. Founder Jeremy Ben-Ami and others emphasized the desire among left-leaning American Jews to see a secure Israel at peace, but a number of speakers—including prominent Reform rabbi Andy Bachman—chose instead to focus on a generational split among American Jews. Bachman was among those who claimed membership in the “pre-1967 generation” of Jews whose relationship to Israel is shaped by having known the country before it became a political occupier, and he expressed a desire to bring his generation’s Zionism to the more jaded post-’67 generation. (Fear of losing younger generations, of course, is central as well to the more traditional Jewish establishment that J Street aims to counteract.)
The audience, too, appeared to have a majority of pre-’67-ers in attendance, many veterans of long-established progressive Zionist groups like Americans for Peace Now. In an interlude during the official remarks, the lights went up and attendees were asked to converse with their tablemates about what brought them there, then tweet or email their thoughts to the folks up on stage. At our table, everyone pounced on the sole college student, asking him about Israel politics at Yale, but the only person who wanted to transmit her thoughts was a gray-haired woman who used a pencil and paper. “Finally!” she wrote.
Whose Israel Is It? [Talking Points Memo]
Ari M. Brostoff is Culture Editor at Jewish Currents.