J Street’s second annual conference – at least, that’s what it was called until the organizers realized it had actually been two years since their first annual conference – took place this past weekend in Washington, D.C. For the liberal lobbying group, which proudly (and falsely) calls itself “pro-Israel” and “pro-peace,” it’s been a rough two years.
Let’s review: It was revealed that, contrary to consistent claims from J Street’s brass, left-wing financier George Soros had provided money to the group, amounting to approximately $800,000. Moreover, a mysterious foreign national donated about as much as Soros did to J Street. The woman’s name: Consolacion Esdicul of Hong Kong. To date, her interest in J Street remains unknown. Neither Soros nor Esdicul were at J Street’s conference this past weekend (unless they were incognito).
Stepping into the Washington Convention Center, one had the sense that things would be a little backwards. More women seemed to be wearing yarmulkes than men. And, when the plenary speaker Ambassador Dennis Ross spoke, the crowd clapped hardest not when he was offering platitudes to the country that it supposedly gathered to support, but he Ross insisted that the “status quo” in Israel is “unsustainable.”
So when Ross said, “It is also important to reaffirm a fundamental principle of the Obama administration’s policy toward the region: our unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security,” one barely heard applause. But when Ross exclaimed, “Despite the extraordinary budget difficulties facing our country, now is not the time to cut aid to Egypt,” the crowd clapped hardest.
J Street, as it happens, is sponsoring a letter in Congress that essentially says that if the U.S. cuts foreign aid, it should also cut aid to Israel. But when it comes to Egypt, J Street is sure that America must not cut its aid.
Overall, however, Ross’s speech was clever. He hardly touched on Israel, instead focusing on what’s going on in her neighboring countries. And while most keynote speakers at policy conferences spend at least the first minute or two praising the host organization, Ross did not even try. Indeed, his only mention of the embattled lobbying group was to say, “When J Street began planning this conference, I’m sure you had in mind discussing a very different reality in the Middle East than exists today.” That’s not even faint praise – it’s no praise at all.