The J Street conference which begins this weekend in Washington will undoubtedly be buffeted by many of the issues that have been in the air all week since Peter Beinart’s New York Times op-ed piece on Monday. The interesting thing beyond the list of speakers– as well as non-speakers–is that they expect 2000 attendees. What stuck home here is that perhaps the time has come to ask where J Street truly begins its discussion; as being first pro-Israel or first being pro-peace. In fact that may be the problem with J Street and its future viability. Will it have a place within the Jewish community’s conversation or only within the larger international political one?
It seems that Israel needs to have a serious discussion with respect to the consequences of the current settlement policy. Israelis and all Jews must not be told take it or leave it. Furthermore, Galut Jews are not marginal to the discussion. This conversation begins with all the participants being unequivocally pro-Israel; something that may not be the case with all JStreeters.
Specifically the discussion goes like this: Prove me wrong that the basis for the current policy is more about internal political coalitions than about security. Show me how publicly stated and packaged arrangements–demonstrating that no one is retreating and don't tell me later I retreated–represents a security danger. Start talking about the outposts and let’s continue on from there. Finally, do not suck me into a discussion of existential threats (Iran)–we will always have them–sadly that is the lot of the Jewish people.
There have been groups before on the left—and a few still today—which did seek to have this conversation. Both within Israel and in the Diaspora Shalom Achshav, Peace Now (APN), Israel Policy Forum (IPF), Meimad, and Breira all made and some continue to make efforts to elevate this conversation into the public space; but so far they are usually delegitimized, marginalized, or reviled. The problem is that these are Israelis or Zionists who love Israel but do not like its politics or its policies and think they are even unnecessarily dangerous for Israel.
Maybe the J Street conference will open this dialogue, but if Peter Beinart is one of their showcase speakers, it is dubious. Despite his eloquence the conversation, sadly, is likely to move to an ideological rant or an opportunity for the expression of personal pique.