Most of Meretz USA’s active leadership attended J Street’s inaugural annual conference, Sunday evening through Tuesday. This links to the historical view that our executive director Ron Skonik took on the eve of this event.
Attending with us were an announced total of 1500 registrants. Most sessions were mobbed; twice I could hardly find a piece of wall to lean on, let alone a seat or (in one case) even floor space to sit on.
J Street has been whacked from right, left and center, yet has tried to conduct itself in a polite and even welcoming manner. Most sessions that I saw were informative and uplifting. A few others seemed more about showing how far it has gone in a mere 18 months of existence, but it deserves to crow about itself.
As our former executive director and now Meretz USA board member, Charney V. Bromberg indicated to me, “The peace movement has now found its center of gravity.” Describing itself as the “political arm of the pro-Israel, pro-peace movement” (I take “political” to mean that it strives for influence in Washington), J Street welcomed the participation of Meretz USA and at least 19 other peace-oriented Zionist or dovish organizations in the US and Israel as “partners” — as written on the conference badges that participants from those groups wore on their necks to facilitate access.
It has grown from a founding staff of four, a year and a half ago, to 30 today. Its initial two legally distinct entities, J Street and J Street PAC, have multiplied to five: there is the J Street Education Fund and an on-campus university student group called J Street U; the latter existed for several years as the Union of Progressive Zionists, which Meretz USA helped found and took the lead in fostering with staff time; and there is the brand new merger or alliance with Brit Tzedek V’Shalom as J Street’s “grassroots” or field arm (with a possible new name still to be determined).
J Street’s positions are nuanced and often misunderstood, if not deliberately distorted. Hence, today J Street U has felt it necessary to deny the claim that J Street U has dropped the “pro-Israel” part of its central slogan and organizing principle as “pro-Israel, pro-peace.”