Of the 2,500 attendees of J Street’s “Making History” Conference, a lot of them are skipping class.
About 650 students, 24 percent of the conference’s attendees, turned out in droves for the movement’s third national conference in Washington, D.C. (500 were at last year’s conference). Just to break that up for you, that’s:
- 125 universities,
- 24 states and
- five different countries.
Israel advocacy on campus will be a major part of the discussion this weekend as nearly every time block has a subject relevant to college students. J Street U board members, student leaders and executives pepper the agenda, discussing “Telling Your Story to Make an Impact,” “The Future of Pro-Israel” and “The Next Generation: How Young Israel Activists and Young American Jews are Transforming Zionism and Pro-Israel Advocacy.”
But before any of that happens, March 24’s opening plenary featured a parade of students announcing the presence of 33 chapters of J Street U, the campus branch of the dovish pro-Israel lobby. Shortly thereafter, author Amoxs Oz, Yerucham Mayor Michael Biton and activist Stav Shaffir applauded J Street’s mission for representing the majority of Israeli public opinion.
“You, J Street, are the only ones brave enough … to have this difficult conversation with us,” Biton said.
As is to be expected, when you gather a bunch of liberal Jews in one room, there’s going to be excitement over criticism of the pro-Israel right, who, according to speakers, shut down conversation and don’t have the answers to solving the peace process.
Oz had this zinger to share:
I’ve been traveling in America for 45 years, once or twice a year, to Jewish communities and campuses and for 45 years they were always trying to hush me by telling me that, ‘Well, in Israel you may you’re your differences but here in America we opt to be united.’ My answer is: United by all means, absolutely. Let us all be united, but why unite under the militant, hawkish, extremist manner of AIPAC? … There is more than just one way to be a good Jew. There is more than just one way to be a good Zionist.
At the end of the day, speakers, particularly J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami, hoped attendees would leave the conference more energized to help solve what Oz called the Israeli-Palestinian “tragedy” with a “Chekhovian solution.”
“As a Jew,” Ben-Ami said. “You’re simply not allowed to throw up your hands and walk away.”