The "independent" blogger panel at J Street's conference can only be described as clownish. The panel consisted mostly of crackpots and self-described anti-Zionists and "one-staters" (J Street director Jeremy Ben-Ami calls the one-state solution a "nightmare," but it seems to be the dream of many of the organization's supporters). Though J Street tried to distance itself from the panel by describing it as an "unofficial" and "independent" event, the bloggers used one of the rooms otherwise reserved for conference events, a podium in the front had a J Street placard on it, and a J Street banner hung on the back wall of the room. Ben-Ami came in to "check up" on the panel, and a J Street flack ejected someone from the room at the behest of one of the panelists. If this wasn't an official event, I don't know what official means.
At the event, Helena Cobban, who describes herself as "agnostic" on a two-state solution, said that blogging had "changed international relations" because now the world could get real-time reaction from the people "underneath U.S. and Israeli bombs."
Another panelist, Max Blumenthal, attacked Ben-Ami for having "capitulated" in an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg last week. Most of the media at the conference were pleased with Ben-Ami's interview with Goldberg -- it was proof, they said, that J Street was indeed a reasonable organization. But that was not the view of the average conference participant. There was "a lot to be troubled with in this interview," Blumenthal said. Ben-Ami had "prostrated himself before this 'serious man.'"
Blumenthal really doesn't like Goldberg. He called him the "Chief Rabbi of a one man island," and then, with respect to Ben-Ami, asked, "if you can't stand up to Goldberg, how can you stand up to Netanyahu?" Blumenthal was upset that Ben-Ami had, under pressure from Goldberg, denounced Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, authors of The Israel Lobby, as anti-Semites. Among the rank and file at the J Street conference, Walt and Mearsheimer are revered. Matt Duss, another panel participant who writes for John Podesta's Center for American Progress, said "the idea of attacking [Walt and Mearsheimer] as anti-Semites is outrageous."
Blumenthal went on to trash Elie Wiesel for speaking this past weekend at the Christians United for Israel conference in San Antonio. After mocking Pastor John Hagee, the founder of CUFI, Blumenthal said "the last time Elie Wiesel trusted someone so much it was Bernie Madoff." Wiesel admitted earlier this year that he lost "everything" he had in Madoff's ponzi scheme. The audience erupted with laughter at Blumenthal's tasteless joke.
Finally, we heard from the proprietor of the blog GazaMom.com, a hijab clad Palestinian woman who said she doesn't consider Mahmoud Abbas to be the legitimate president of the Palestinian Authority. Does she support Hamas? Who knows. "Whenever I hear two-state solution, I shake my head," she said, "I'm a one-stater." Again the room erupted with applause. Philip Weiss, another blogger participating in the panel, looked around and said "there are many Zionists in this room, there are also some non-Zionists and anti-Zionists." I would say that's a pretty good description of the J Street conference as a whole.
One other note: I didn't see a single member of Congress at the conference today. That's not to say there were none there -- there was an afternoon panel featuring Reps. Boustany, Schakowsky, and Filner -- but I didn't see any wandering around. I did see Jonathan Tasini, who is running a primary against New York Democrat Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand in 2010 and has tried to make an issue out of Gillibrand's decision to pull her support for the J Street conference.