Four members of Congress spoke at the J Street conference today, agreeing that the greatest barrier to Mideast peace is “politics” even as an audience member yelled out “Benjamin Netanyahu!”
Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), though, said it was the settlements on the West Bank — earning hearty applause in what was the trigger line for this conference akin to the undivided Jerusalem pledge at AIPAC.
“It’s like an organization I’ve been looking for for at least 25 years,” Johnson said of J Street.”I think I have gotten myself in trouble many times just making simple statements where I didn’t know the implications.”
She told the audience that she had approached AIPAC about making sure that women were at the table in Mideast peace negotiations, telling the lobbying group about the history of Mother’s Day and the role of women pleading for peace after the Civil War.
“I had Jewish members of my staff, Muslim members of my staff, Christian members of my staff,” Johnson said. “It became almost obsessions with me, trying to strike a balance, and I really didn’t find that balance until I found J Street and they found me.”
“I do feel that I have met up with a group that feels peace is the way out of this and peace is what we seek,” she added.
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), clearly a crowd favorite, said that more members of Congress are looking for “space” for dialogue about advocating a two-state solution.
“They want the space to be able to cast more balanced votes,” she said. “They want our country to lead, they want our country to bring both sides together and push push push forward.”
Lee has introduced a resolution, which has nine co-sponsors, to appoint a special envoy on Iran and do away with the policy of not directly contacting Tehran. She said J Street helped write the resolution and lobby for it.
“How can you have a diplomatic option that’s real and a no contact policy?” she said, adding, “We need to get rid of our own nuclear weapons.”
Lee said that when an issue springs up she immediately asks for J Street’s policy analysis.
Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) said he was glad the conference was in town to bring attention to the Mideast peace process while Capitol Hill is occupied with Iran. “Washington right now is obsessed with flexing its military might,” he said.
“I think an intelligent discussion is what’s missing in this country and I think you’re helping to bring it back,” McGovern said. “Think of yourself as teachers and think of all of us as very unruly students. The more people seem to be aware of things the more you see that reflected in their votes.”
“The frustrating thing about this conflict: most of us think we know what some kind of ultimate agreement would look like roughly, but we just can’t get there,” said Rep. David Price (D-N.C.).
He said that “we have a huge stake” in not letting Israel become “a wedge issue.”