Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni addresses the 4th National J Street Conference in Washington on September 28, 2013.(NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
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Tzipi Livni Gets Mixed Reception at J Street

Urged audience not to overlook Israel’s security needs in the quest for peace

Liam Hoare
September 29, 2013
Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni addresses the 4th National J Street Conference in Washington on September 28, 2013.(NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

Israel’s Justice Minister Tzipi Livni received a mixed reception at the opening night of J Street’s fourth annual conference in Washington D.C., as she told the nearly 3,000 delegates, including 900 students, that in their quest for peace they must not abandon Israel’s security needs.

Livni’s address—which in content broke no new ground—was greeted with standing ovations at its opening and closing. She was applauded warmly when she expressed her belief that the only way to maintain Israel as a Jewish and democratic state is to adopt the idea of two states for two peoples. “Israel and peace are contradictory ideas. They must live together,” she said. “Do not let anybody convince you otherwise.”

Yet the reaction was far more tepid when Livni asked delegates to put aside the division and disagreements between Israelis and the Diaspora in order to unite behind the IDF. “There is a process of delegitimization against Israel which focuses on our soldiers,” Livni warned. “You should not accept the comparison between a terrorist who murders children in a school and the IDF.”

Nonetheless, the fact that Livni was there last night is noteworthy in itself. Four years ago, when she was leader of the opposition and head of the largest faction in the Knesset, Livni rejected an opportunity to speak at the lobbying group’s first annual conference. This year she joins Shelly Yachimovich of Labor and representatives from the Likud, Shas, Yesh Atid, Hatnua, and Meretz parties in attending.

In addition to speeches from The Gatekeepers director Dror Moreh and Rep. John Lewis, a Democrat from Georgia’s fifth congressional district, opening night featured J Street president Jeremy Ben-Ami’s announcement of the launch of the 2 Campaign, a $1 million initiative to mobilize support for the role of the United States in the process to reach a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians.

“For too long, support for two states in Jewish organizational politics has been hamstrung by excuses. We so often hear people say, ‘I’m for a two-state solution, but the Palestinians aren’t partners, but the 67-lines aren’t defensible, but there’s no way to resolves the issue of Jerusalem,” Ben-Ami said.

Problematic for J Street, however, is that their position on what a two-state solution should look like doesn’t exactly mesh with that of the current Israeli government. The 2 Campaign, for example, supports the establishment of two capitals in Jerusalem, including “Palestinian neighborhoods as the capital of the future state of Palestine.” This is notably not the position of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said Jerusalem must remain “the united capital of Israel” in his Bar-Ilan address, or Yair Lapid, Israel’s Minister of Finance, who remarked that Jerusalem as a place and as an idea cannot be divided. It is not even, publicly at least, the position of Israel’s chief negotiator with the Palestinians: Tzipi Livni.

Liam Hoare is a freelance writer based in Vienna, where he is the Europe Editor for Moment and a frequent contributor to Tablet.