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The J Street Conference: Where’s the Outrage?

In other words, there are supposed to be groups -- on both sides of the spectrum -- that are considered too radical to be legitimate, to be part of the “conversation.” A group, for instance, advocating the expulsion of all Arabs from Israel. And what of a group that "calls for an end to U.S. aid to Israel, accuses Israel of 'apartheid' policies, and supports divestment campaigns against Israel"?

Jeremy Ben-Ami says, if not in so many words, that such a group is legitimate. He claims he and J Street “disagree” with it -- but he invites it to their conference as a full participant. There could be no clearer conferral of legitimacy.

What’s most striking, though, is how many appear to agree with him. Members of Knesset from Israel’s opposition Kadima and Labor parties attended the conference and spoke at it. So did Dennis Ross, chief Middle East adviser of the Obama administration. So did Rabbi David Saperstein of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. So did journalist Peter Beinart. So did Ron Pundak, director of the Peres Center for Peace in Israel. All these supposedly mainstream, left-of-center Israeli and Jewish figures were willing to share the podium with Rebecca Vilkomerson. And, for that matter, with Edina Lekovic of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, who -- in the words of Noah Pollak in a letter to Ross before the conference -- was a managing editor of a magazine that praised Osama bin Laden as a “freedom fighter”; or James Zogby of the Arab-American Institute, who “has compared Israelis to Nazis and accused the IDF of ‘genocide’ and a ‘Holocaust’”; or Michael Sfard, a lawyer who “is best known as a leading advocate of ‘lawfare’ -- prosecuting Israeli soldiers and officials in European war-crimes trials”; or about a dozen others of that ilk.

All part of the “conversation”? Something was on display at last week’s J Street conference in Washington, and it was not pretty. Is opposition to Israel’s worst slanderers and foes now a “right-wing” position? Those concerned about Israel, the U.S.-Israel relationship, and U.S. Middle East policy can look at this spectacle and draw their own conclusions.