Israel Envoy Hosts J Street Chief in Bid to End Rift

Michael Oren invites Jeremy Ben Ami to Washington talks, signaling conclusion to high-profile spat.

WASHINGTON - J Street founder and executive director Jeremy Ben-Ami met Israel's U.S. Ambassador Michael Oren for the first time on Wednesday as as Israel sought to heal a high-profile rift with the Jewish lobby group.

Oren invited Ben-Ami the Israeli embassy in Washington for talks that lasted around an hour and covered topics including the peace process, U.S.-Israel relations and Iran.

Wednesday's meeting builds on months of discussions between the pro-Israel, pro-peace lobby and the embassy to clarify Israel's understanding of J Street's views.

"I greatly appreciated the opportunity to sit down with Ambassador Oren for a frank and fruitful conversation about how we can work together to ensure Israel's prospects for peace and security," Ben-Ami said after the meeting. "I applaud the Ambassador's commitment to building a bridge to the pro-Israel, pro-peace community in the months since our national conference."

He added: "The ambassador clearly recognizes the importance of dialogue and communication between the State of Israel and those parts of the American Jewish community that are deeply pro-Israel but at times disagree with the policies of its government.

Oren in October 2009 sparked anger when he rejected an invitation from J Street to attend its first national conference.

Relations between the dovish American Jewish organization and Israel's right-wing Likud-led government worsened in February when Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon refused to meet a delegation of U.S. congressmen on a trip to Israel arranged by J Street.

Since then the government has changed tack and adopted a more conciliatory tone, however.

Ben-Ami was quick to embrace Israel's move to end the spat, saying:

"J Street hopes that going forward we are building a relationship based on mutual respect and recognizing that our disagreements are rooted in a deep commitment to Israel's security and its future as a democracy and the home of the Jewish people.

"I hope this is but the first of many conversations we will have."