Binah urged the J Street members to stand by Israel “as Americans, as members of your community, as Jews.”
“For the sake of our forefathers and our future, we must keep our brotherhood strong,” he concluded.
There was some unintelligible yelling after Binah’s speech, when J Street executive director Jeremy Ben-Ami took the podium.
“You give new meaning to the phrase ‘hard act to follow,’” he quipped at Binah.
Ben-Ami launched into a spirited defense of the organization, stressing the organization’s motto that it’s a “pro-Israel, pro-peace” group.
“We wanted a voice that recognized that Israel’s future depends on achieving a two-state solution,” he said. “We wanted to express our voice to say that being pro-Israel doesn’t mean being anti-Palestinian. Being pro-Israel doesn’t mean agreeing with every policy of this Israeli government.”
Ben-Ami, who thanked Binah for his “attendance,” said J Street knows that the present is not the future it wants.
“Our choice is not to sit home and wallow in despair,” he said.
Olmert, the evening’s final speaker, called his own presence at the dinner a “historic” moment for Jewish community in America.
“I’m guessing some of you might not have agreed with everything Mr. Binah said,” he said to cheers. “…The fact that the government decided to send him is the most important thing and this is very significant.”
Olmert thanked the group for inviting him, but said he was “aggravated” that some people congratulated him for accepting the invitation.
“J Street is a legitimate organization which cares for the state of Israel,” the former prime minister said.
Yet when Olmert touched on similar themes of stopping a nuclear Iran like Binah did, he lost the crowd.
“I entirely agree with those who believe that Israel cannot tolerate a nuclear Iran,” he said. “…We’re talking about a nation which openly, formally talks about wiping Israel off the map.”
To deal with the crisis, he said he would “examine, analyze” in a “balanced and determined manner.” He advocated superpowers in the West taking the lead to stop Iran, but said Israel needs to build capacity for action on its own.
“As a last resort, go to the first one,” Olmert said. “I don’t think I need to say more.”
A woman shouted “no war” in the quiet audience.
Olmert brought the crowd back to life by saying that the two-state solution is the “primary responsibility” of Israel — then clarified that it’s not exclusively Israel’s responsibility. “The Palestinians don’t always meet their responsibilities,” he said.
He quipped that “maybe I could get a standing ovation” from the conference crowd if he laid all blame on Israel.
Olmert proceeded to advocate a peace plan starting with 1967 borders and declared that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas wants peace.
The third J Street conference had nearly 2,500 registered. It was dwarfed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee event earlier this month, also at the convention center, which was packed with more than 13,000 registered attendees.
Whereas AIPAC had security checkpoints including metal detectors and hand-searches of all bags, J Street had no such screening.
More than 60 lawmakers from the House and Senate attended the J Street dinner, Ben-Ami said, calling them the “legislative future.”
J Street attendees were to hit Capitol Hill on Tuesday for more than 200 lobbying meetings. AIPAC reported a record 530 lawmaker meetings this year, five short of the total members of Congress.