Despite “welcoming Peter Beinart with open arms” at J Street’s annual conference in Washington, the group’s executive director said that he doesn’t support the “Zionist BDS” proposal put forth by the journalist.
Beinart, in a New York Times op-ed last week, called for a boycott of goods manufactured in West Bank settlements.
J Street chief Jeremy Ben-Ami told a roundtable of reporters today that the group has not supported the Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions movement. When asked by a writer whether there is a situation under which J Street would support BDS, he answered “no.”
He sung Beinart’s praises while stressing he disagrees with him, echoing a blog post he wrote on the J Street site a week ago.
When asked why there was a BDS panel offered last year at the conference but not this year, Ben-Ami said it was a matter of programming variety.
“That’s more a matter of trying to find more things to talk about,” he said.
The executive director also stressed he’d like a greater variety of representation on the panels but felt many wouldn’t agree to come for fear of being stigmatized as associated with the group. “We would be very happy to have on our panels far more people who disagree with us,” he said.
“There are going to be people attending this conference” who say things J Street doesn’t agree with, he said, noting that he doesn’t “think it’s appropriate to use the word ‘apartheid’ in describing Israel.”
“That’s just the nature of the beast. We are not dictating the acceptable vocabulary of everyone who walks in the door.”
Nearly 2,500 people registered for this year’s conference, which Ben-Ami said “demonstrates continued growth of the pro-peace movement.”
J Street activists will be heading to Capitol Hill to lobby tomorrow, but Ben-Ami said their strategy focuses heavily on grass-roots outreach in synagogues.
“There’s a very vast set of allies out there: Muslim, Christian, atheist,” he said. “We are proud to have non-Jewish allies but the identity and core will always be inside the Jewish community and reflect Jewish values.”
“It’s a critical year for choices that need to be made in the political realm,” he said. “Our vision is one where friends of Israel stand up for strong American leadership to achieve two states.”
Ben-Ami said they are lobbying for as much attention to be paid in Washington to the Mideast peace process as the Iranian nuclear threat.
“You can’t pick one threat or one crisis at a time to address,” he said.
“We want to see the administration take a much more proactive role,” he added. “This next phase is clearly defined by the 2012 election.”