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Jones on J Street

5:04 PM, Oct 27, 2009 • By MICHAEL GOLDFARB
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Obama national security adviser Jim Jones spoke today to the assorted Zionists, anti-Zionists, and social justice advocates who had assembled for J Street's inaugural conference. Genuine supporters of Israel would find little to object to in Jones's speech. There are two possible explanations for this. First, it may be that Jones's speech writer took J Street's claims to be pro-Israel at face value and calibrated for a pro-Israel audience. The other possibility is that the administration wanted to distance itself from J Street on some of the major issues -- Goldstone and Iran sanctions in particular -- that have been front and center during the J Street conference. An authoritative source tells THE WEEKLY STANDARD that the administration pushed J Street to have Rep. Robert Wexler introduce Jones -- at these kind of things, introductions are typically made by someone formally affiliated with the organization -- which suggests the second explanation may be the more likely one.

On Goldstone, Jones condemned the report without any serious qualification. J Street has refused either to condemn the report or embrace it. As J Street policy director Hadar Susskind told me yesterday when pressed to explain J Street's position on the report, "There's a lot of space between condemn and embrace."

On Iran, Jones did not mention sanctions specifically, but he did say "all options are on the table." This formulation is so routine, and so consistent with the rhetoric of the previous administration, that it hardly seems worth noting on its own. But in the context of the J Street conference, it was an exceptional statement. J Street opposes sanctions on Iran, let alone the threat of military action. J Street director Jeremy Ben-Ami said yesterday that the "the possibility of military actions is probably the most counterproductive thing that could happen." Apparently the administration has a somewhat different view.

Jones offered several strong statements of support for Israel that would have garnered long and sustained standing ovations at a real pro-Israel conference. At J Street the crowd responded with polite applause. Probably the best response Jones got from the crowd was his declaration that the Obama administration would send a representative to any future conference held by J Street. I'm dubious that representative will be as high-level as Jones. The only standing ovation Jones got was when his speech came to an end. This was odd. Like a political convention, a conference is meant to be theater in which the enthusiasm of delegates is on display for the media. It's possible that most of the participants at the J Street conference just didn't know they were supposed to get up and cheer at the pro-Israel lines (this was J Street's first conference), but more likely they just weren't moved to do so.

The only real problem I had with Jones's speech came when he said that if he could solve only one problem in the world, it would be the Arab-Israeli conflict. Many observers take the view that solving the Iran problem would open the way to a real and lasting peace in Israel, but the administration has taken the other view -- that the Palestinian problem should be solved first. Rahm Emanuel and Barack Obama have both made this case. During the campaign Obama called the Arab-Israeli conflict a "constant sore" that "infect[s] all of our foreign policy."

I was able to ask Jones a quick question as he made his way out of the conference. Jones recently had a public squabble with his long-time friend Senator McCain, who earlier this month accused Jones of playing politics with the war in Afghanistan. I asked Jones if he'd been in touch with McCain since then. He responded, "I called his office and tried to get an appointment -- I hope to see him in the next few days." A spokesman for Senator McCain said they "are working on a mutual time for a meeting."