Archive for the ‘J Street Conference 2011’ Category

My Response to Ami Kaufman Published By Israeli Blogsite +972

March 18, 2011 Comments off

J Street Conference 2011

Although Kaufman’s commentary provided some food for thought, there was a whole lot of context that he missed.

Here is my response, which I had originally titled:  Ami Kaufmann’s Blogpost re: J Street Conference:  “A” for Perception, “C-” for Perceptiveness


J Street member responds to criticism of DC conference

The following is a post written by Mr. Mark Zivin, an active J Street member, in response to my earlier post titled: “The J Street conference: An ‘A’ for effort, ‘F’ for results”. In my post I claimed that the conference failed where it matters most: bringing major league politicians from Capitol Hill. As you shall soon see, Mr. Zivin thinks I might have been a tad too harsh.

By Mark Zivin

I found Ami Kaufman’s recent piece about the J Street Conference to provide some very valuable insight into how the conference was perceived outside of the United States. Part of the problem was not only the lack of media attention (and I would agree that this is a legitimate concern), but there also was a lack of depth and context to the coverage.

Part of the problem is that this conference represents more of an evolution in the development of J Street as a movement, rather than a revolution. And as we all know, the cutbacks in personnel and budgets in the traditional media make it much harder, at any point in time, for them to justify covering evolutionary progress.  And particularly at this moment in time, there just might be a few other revolutionary things going on in the world that would capture their attention before a conference in D.C.  So, let me provide some of that context.

Regarding the event itself, Ami failed to look at the numbers.  Attendance was up over 50% from 1,500 at the first conference to about 2,400 this year. For comparison sake, the AIPAC policy conference last year had 7,500, including a large contingent of about 750 from Chicago, because a very popular Lee Rosenberg from their hometown was being installed as President. Attracting almost one-third as many people as AIPAC after being in existence for only three years seems quite impressive. Even more interesting, the AIPAC numbers included 750 students; J Street had 500 students.  So, J Street was able to do even better with young people.  That is significant.

But it is in the area of the “political aspect” where not having the benefit of a broader American political perspective resulted in Ami drawing some very wrong conclusions about the political effectiveness of J Street. There are much better measures of JStreetPAC’s effectiveness than looking at the “caliber of speakers”.  Again, let’s look at the numbers. In the 2010 election cycle, JStreetPAC raised more money, over $1.5M, than any other pro-Israel PAC (AIPAC is legally not a PAC and so does not directly raise money for candidates) and 46 of 61 endorsed candidates won (granted many of these were incumbents in Democratic districts).

But, the big story of 2010 that Ami ignored was the huge Republican wave that swept Congress, including more than a few J Street incumbents – which would help explain why there were fewer Representatives at the conference. Here in Illinois, we actually lost two out of four J Street endorsees who J Street had developed strong relationships with. That scenario played out all across the country.

As for the Republicans, J Street reaches out to them on the Hill, and for the most part they will politely meet with J Street’s staff. However, it is nearly impossible to get them to accept an endorsement. There was a very brave Republican Congressman from Louisiana, Rep. Charles Boustany, who was with J Street from the beginning. He is a medical doctor of Lebanese Christian descent. He accepted J Street’s endorsement for both 2008 and 2010.  Unfortunately, when the whole flap about funding from George Soros emerged, he was forced to drop the endorsement.

And speaking of brave, although “minor league” is one way to characterize the Congresspeople that came to the conference, I know several of them pretty well.  I think that more accurate adjectives would be “tough”, “fair-minded”, and “sincere”, in addition to “brave”.  And, although Ami quoted part of a paragraph from Nathan Guttman in the Forward, he missed the point on two counts.  First, he failed to connect the very real political risk that there can be fallout from showing up at the conference with the fact that some people decided not to attend. So we have to really appreciate those that ignored that risk.  Secondly, Ami left out the last sentence of Guttman’s paragraph:

“But Rep. Lois Capps, another California Democrat who is endorsed by J StreetPAC, said that there is a “noticeable change” in Congress and more openness to listening to other views on Israel.”

I have personally heard from many Congressmen and women how thankful they are that J Street exists. It has allowed many of them to be bolder and more outspoken in their positions than they could ever have been if it was not for J Street.

And speaking of political, the day after the conference was “Lobby Day”, where hundreds of conference participants went up on Capitol Hill to meet with Senators and Representatives to promote J Street’s positions and make some type of “ask” in favor of these views. This year’s “ask” was very interesting.  Each Congressperson was asked to sign on to a letter that is sponsored by Jan Schakowsky (my Representative) and Anna Eshoo of California. The letter is in support of maintaining the level of foreign aid both to Israel and the Palestinian Authority.  The letter is very even-handed and this was evidenced by its being the lead article in the Chicago Federation’s (JUF) e-newsletter last week. Significantly, J Street was the first group to lobby for this letter on the Hill.  My hope is that we will be seeing more J Street actions which will be acceptable to a broader range of members of the Jewish community.

And speaking of Republican, one should be aware of what happened in my home district, Illinois’ Ninth. The above mentioned incumbent, Jan Schakowsky, who is Jewish, has been a strong supporter of Israel during her entire 12 years in Congress, and she was also one of the first in Congress to accept J Street’s endorsement.  And although the mantra of traditional center-right Jewish groups, including AIPAC, has been that support for Israel should not be a political issue, her young opponent disparaged mercilessly both Jan’s support for Israel and her acceptance of J Street’s endorsement. There is a large enclave of Orthodox Jews in her district and many of them supported her opponent. Despite this, Jan won handily by margins similar to prior years.

The point being that this served as a test to find out both whether J Street could muster effective political support (which it did by turning out scores of people at key debates and rallies), and whether or not J Street support could actually harm a candidate in a district with a large Jewish population. J Street fared very well on both counts. And, realizing exactly how much a litmus test this district could be, J Street actually conducted very specific polling to be able to do more than judge the results anecdotally.  These poll results indicated that despite her opponent spending over $500,000 and despite the overall Republican trend in the nation, Jan’s popularity was unscathed by her association with J Street.

So all in all, to paraphrase Mark Twain, the reports of J Street’s political demise have been greatly exaggerated. That isn’t to say that J Street has not made political mistakes or that the path forward is going to be easy, but it is to say that J Street has made, and continues to make, a significant difference in the tone of American political conversation about Israel, Palestine and Middle East Peace. And trust me, J Street’s leadership and staff didn’t spend too much time patting themselves on the back in self-congratulatory revelry. Despite tired minds and bodies, they spent the two days following the conference de-briefing, planning and preparing for what lies ahead. Knowing many of them, they certainly wouldn’t disagree with Ami that 2011 is a make or break year. But, rest assured, pep rallies aren’t in the plans. How to get to peace is what their sights are set on.

Mark Zivin is a member of J Street’s Political Finance Committee and a leader of J Street Chicago, its local branch.  He was Treasurer of the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation, and has been a supporter of major American Jewish organizations for decades.  He blogs about politics in general and Middle East Peace in particular at and Tweets at

View of J Street Conference from Israel: Ami Kaufman’s Post on +972 Blogsite Last Week

March 18, 2011 Comments off

Ami Kaufman

Here is Ami’s original posting on +972 entitled:  The J street conference: An “A” for effort, “F” for results.

See my response here:  J Street member responds to criticism of DC conference


The J street conference: An “A” for effort, “F” for results

From this Israeli’s perspective, the J Street conference looked like a pretty sleek production. Too bad that’s all it amounted to.

Now that the folks at JStreet are finished patting each other on the back for a job well done, I’d like to give them a perspective on the conference from one who did not attend. I just read about it here, on my laptop in sunny Bat Yam.
There wasn’t much to see here. Not on TV, and not in the papers. I also understand that there wasn’t much coverage in the American media. In fact, if one visits JStreet’s website and clicks on the media coverage link, it’s easy enough to compare the coverage received by this conference to the first one in 2009. Not only is the list about a third in length, but some big names don’t show up: The New York Times, The Guardian, The Washington Times, The Economist, and others.
After seeing this, I decided to take a small, totally unscientific survey of numerous friends and family in the States, all liberal, Obama-voting Jews: none of them knew the conference was going on. My only solace was found in a cousin who told me the only info he had from the conference was +972.
Look, if you can’t get an item in the NYTimes and if you can’t get the attention of the audience you’re preaching to (even though my poll was unscientific, my gut feeling is that it’s not far from the truth) – your media department is having difficulties. This is basic stuff, folks.
But media is the least of JStreet’s problems. What about what went on in the conference rooms? Sure, the speeches were nice. The two new mega stars that everybody just HAS to love these days – Mona Eltahaway and Peter Beinart – sent chills down many spines.
And, apparently, some of the panel discussions were very interesting. Take for example the groundbreaking panel on BDS – the fact that JStreet even opened that topic for debate is quite impressive.
But unfortunately, nice panels aren’t enough. Don’t get me wrong, creating discussion inside the Jewish community is extremely important, and I’m sure that’s what happened at this conference. All in all, it looks like it was a feel-good, nice n’ fuzzy kinda gathering. But a failure nonetheless.
Where JStreet failed this time is where it hurts most: the political aspect. Its most important arm is JStreetPac, the political action committee. The fruits of this pac’s efforts should have been seen in the caliber of speakers from Congress it brought to the event. Based on the 50 or so politicians who showed up, most of them minor league players, J Street supporters (myself included) should be worried. Even more so, when the best you can get from the Obama administration is a speech from Dennis Ross. I think it’s safe to say that’s even a downgrade from James Jones attending the 2009 conference.
Nathan Guttman of The Forward wrote about the possible reasons for this:

“Some members of Congress who participated in J Street’s conference spoke of the difficulties of embracing J Street’s agenda on Capitol Hill.During one panel discussion, Rep. Keith Ellison, a Minnesota Democrat, said that “there are prices to pay” for supporting J Street’s views in Congress. In another discussion, Rep. Lynn Woolsey, a California Democrat, argued that on Middle East issues the “most important decisions are governed by fear, fear of losing votes, of losing campaign donations.”

And Natasha Mozgovaya pointed out how J Street is still a novice in some areas:

The problem with J Street is that it seems to have lost a bit of its policy focus, instead plunging into controversies and acting, as some Congress staffers hint, too hastily and even arrogantly. They point to the lobby’s practice of putting out controversial statements without consulting enough with key players, making some congressmen sympathetic to a two-state solution feel uncomfortable.

J Street has got its work cut out for it. The organization must now roll up its sleeves in what will be its most difficult task: Ahead of the 2012 U.S. elections, it must prevent its next conference from being just as parve, since its arch-nemesis AIPAC will be doing some serious muscle flexing to keep its Senators and Representatives in rank.
In an emotional plea to participants of the conference, Eltahawy asked for J Street not to be 10 days too late, as were the Mideast leaders who eventually lost power. I fear Eltahawy’s request is too late in itself. American Jewry, and J Street, seem to have woken up too late. It could be that by the time J Street gets its act together, the two state solution will be dead.

The only way to make a change is to get a massive movement of big gun politicians from AIPAC to J Street. And it has to happen soon, before the next conference.

2011 is J Street’s make or break year. Otherwise, their next gatherings are in danger of turning into nothing more than annual pep rallies.

    Word of the Day: “Unprecedented”

    March 1, 2011 Comments off

    The J Street Conference ended today.

    There was a lot of good information – straight, no chaser..
    There was a lot of insightful analysis.
    There was a lot of nuance.
    There was a lot of learning.
    Most of all there was a lot of energy.

    And, if there was one overwhelming theme that permeated the conference, the theme was that we have entered into a period of unprecedented change in the Middle East. Dennis Ross politely characterized as a “Period of Uncertainty”. The implication of this for almost all of the speakers was obvious: with events unravelling so quickly and with little predictability, it is imperative to move the Peace Process along swiftly and strongly.

    And, although Ross went on to say that President Obama believes that the world is changing – and will continue to change because there is a new generation of youth rising in the Arab world. And he further believes that we “need to be ahead of the curve”. Further, Ross went on to say that we “can’t get stuck in the unsustainable status quo”. Then, remarkably, he followed that up by saying “Negotiations are the only way forward.” And proceeded to lay out a meager list of activities the Administration was taking that were clearly dwarfed by the gravity of the situation. Essentially, he presented the same concepts that have guided US policy for the past twenty or so years.

    Thinking about this, I like to use common sense logic. Let’s examine this. Ross clearly indicated that we are in a period of uncertainty which requires us to stay ahead of the curve. Yet the policy recommendations are essentially the Same Old, Same Old.

    Virtually every other speaker agreed about the conditions, but drew a very different conclusion. The conclusion is that time is extremely limited and we need to be pro-active and dynamic with our policies. If not, we shall almost certainly stay behind the curve – which means that eventually the heady perfume of democracy and freedom will waft across the borders into the West Bank and Gaza. As one J Street leader asked me – what will the Israelis do when faced with 100,000 non-violent protesters marching through the streets of Hebron? This no longer seems to be a simply theoretical question – because it is likely that if the Palestinians and Israelis continue with the same Mexican standoff that has been going on year after year, this will be the result. At that point, there will be few good options.

    Again, the situation logically calls for a renewed urgency in making some real progress towards peace so that the Palestinian Street can have some hope. But what is the word from Israel? A congressman that just came back today from meetings there was told by the Israelis: “This is definitely not the time for action”. Frankly, I was dumbfounded. The only explanation that I could come up with for this attitude was that the Israeli government continues to feel they can ‘ride out the storm’ – despite the fact that virtually every observer can see that what is happening in the Arab world has taken on a power of its own. It appears that the strongest country in the Middle East – by almost every measure – is being paralyzed by fear. While there are clear risks of taking some bold actions towards solving the problems, given the events of the last 8 weeks, I believe that the risks of doing nothing are much, much larger.

    %d bloggers like this: