Is Israel's New Ambassador Trying To Squelch J Street?

Israel's ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, is boycotting J Street's -- the new pro-Israel PAC -- first annual conference. Incredibly, he says it could "impair Israeli interests."
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Israel's ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, is boycotting J Street's first annual conference. J Street is the new pro-Israel, pro-peace political action committee which has made remarkable strides in its one year of existence. 160 House members and Senators have signed on as "hosts" of the conference.

But the ambassador is not coming because, in the embassy's words, J Street could "impair Israeli interests."

That is a pretty incredible statement. J Street is an American organization dedicated to working toward Israeli-Palestinian peace because peace is in America's interests. It is made up of individuals who are also deeply concerned about Israel's security and well-being. Nonetheless, the ambassador's language is offensive.

Here is what Jeremy Ben Ami, Executive Director of J Street, said in an "open letter" to Oren.

Public comments by your spokesman last week indicate that you have 'concerns over certain policies [of J Street's] that could impair Israel's interests.'

I'm sure you also have concerns and disagreements over policies advocated by certain political parties and their leaders in Israel. That's democracy - and it is fitting that there would be deep disagreements at moments of important communal decision.

We too have our own serious concerns over the policies of the present Israeli government and its impact not just on Israel's interests but on our interests as Americans and as American Jews. As Jews who care about Israel, we fear that, on Israel's present path, we will see our shared dream of a Jewish, democratic home in the state of Israel slip through our fingers.

As Americans, we worry about the impact of Israeli policies on vital US interests in the Middle East and around the world.

Finally, as American Jews, we worry that the health and vitality of our community will be deeply affected by what happens in the region, how the world perceives Israel and by how our community here at home deals with increasingly complex conversations around Israel.

Oren's decision to boycott the conference is self-defeating. Why would he not want to discuss Israeli policies at J Street? It is a Jewish organization composed of people who care deeply about Israel (why else would they get involved with a pro-Israel organization like J Street?).

Apparently, the ambassador believes that an organization dedicated to the two-state solution and ending the occupation is, by definition, unfriendly to Israel. If so, his tenure as ambassador will not be a happy one.

Most Americans who care about Israel understand that the only way to preserve Israel as a Jewish state and a democracy is by implementing the two-state solution. The alternative is the perpetuation of the status quo which will inevitably result in an Israel in which Israelis are heavily outnumbered by Palestinians. That would mean the end of the Zionist enterprise.

Oren knows that. But he wants to send a message. It is: don't criticize Israeli policies if you want the ambassador to honor you with his presence.

That is an odd message to come from a diplomat.

If Oren is to succeed here, he needs to understand that American Jews are Americans and, as such, hold all kinds of views on all kinds of issues - including Israel. That is not going to change. If he is smart, he will want to add his unique voice (he's a former American citizen in addition to being ambassador) to the mix.

Even if J Street was not pro-Israel, which it most emphatically is, he should welcome the opportunity to share his views with its members. That is, after all, the American (and Israeli) way.

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