J Street Embraced by Obama Administration, but Not in Israel

Israel's ambassador might not accept invite to speak at lobby's conference, despite diplomatic sensitivity.

The Obama administration appears to be welcoming the efforts of the left-leaning Jewish lobby in Washington, J Street.

While Israel's ambassador to the U.S. will probably not be attending the group's October 25 conference, senior U.S. administration officials who have confirmed their participation include James Jones, national security adviser in the Obama administration.

J Street was set up more than two years ago to offer an antidote to the large and powerful America Israel Public Affairs Committee. AIPAC enjoys substantial support in both the Democratic and Republican parties and is identified with a more "rightist" line on the peace process. J Street defines itself as being "for Israel and for the peace process."

Senior members of J Street have had close ties to senior figures in the Obama campaign, and since he was elected, they have been consulted by the administration. When President Obama met with the heads of Jewish organizations in the U.S., representatives of J Street were also invited.

Participation in the J Street conference is a very sensitive political issue in Washington - and also at the Foreign Ministry and the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem.

Ambassador Michael Oren has still not acknowledged an invitation to address the conference. Senior Israeli officials say Oren has not been given any instruction and was told the decision to participate or not was his to make. Oren apparently is inclined not to participate and to send a lower-ranking diplomat in his stead.

Arguments against the ambassador's participation were put forward, primarily the belief J Street is not a pro-Israel lobby, despite its claims.

In Israel, there is concern that AIPAC will interpret participation as an act against it. "You don't turn your back on someone who has acted in your favor for decades," said a senior Israeli official. "Certainly not in favor of an organization that has done nothing for Israel." The official added: "We have no reason to build up or bolster J Street."

Israeli domestic politics are also a likely factor in the decision on whether to participate or not. The vast majority of the politicians from Israel who have confirmed their participation in the J Street conference are from the left, mostly Meretz and Labor.

Meanwhile, J Street's executive director, Jeremy Ben-Ami, sent a letter to ambassador Oren Friday, inviting him to the conference, reiterating the support of the group for Israel and for an immediate resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through peaceful means. Ben-Ami said that at the conference "we will come together as pro-Israel activists to discuss the best path forward for Israel and the United States in troubling circumstances, balancing a desire for security and for peace and a commitment to the values we bring to the table as Jews and as Americans."

He also reminded Oren that in the past "you've spoken publicly of the need for Israeli officials to engage with progressive elements in the American Jewish community that have not traditionally been attracted to pro-Israel lobbying."