Dear J Street
Let me just preface my point here by first stating that I don't really have a dog in the fight over the J Street conference going on next week in Washington. Do I think Michael Oren should attended? Sure. Do I think it hurts his standing in either Jerusalem or Washington or Peoria to not attend? Not in the slightest.
I think this conference is one of those events that people living and working in Washington think is really, really important, but in the long run doesn't mean a heck of a lot. It seems to me that because J Street has to compete inside the beltway with already established heavy-hitters such as AIPAC, its supporters are going to take small victories—like, for instance, a really formal and distant letter from Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni—and inflate it into something of undeserved value.
I think Michael Goldfarb makes a fair point:
Livni refused to come in person, refused to do a live satellite appearance, refused to do a taped message. Instead she wrote a letter -- and even then she's careful to say that she and J Street do "not agree on everything."
Right, which makes the gushing over said letter even more bizarre. What would the reaction be if a significant Israeli official actually decided to attend? Would there be fainting at the Grand Hyatt?
I think this hysteria stems from the left's general paranoia and exaggeration of AIPAC's influence on Israeli policy. Such influence is clearly there, but it cannot possibly compete with the imaginations of the AIPAC skeptics. And because of that hyper-inflated fear, these critics seem to think that the best way to compete for influence over Israeli policy is to start another partisan group, and to throw even BIGGER cocktail soirees in Washington hotel ballrooms. That'll show those evil Likudniks!
And look, I love chicken on a stick and free wine in plastic cups as much as the next guy; but it seems to me that if progressives believe AIPAC holds a disproportionate amount of influence over our elected officials, than they should take it to the Congressional level and try to change that dynamic in targeted districts.
Getting excited over a perfunctory letter from a powerless Israeli official only highlights J Street's own relative degree of powerlessness, and thus, hands the power right back to AIPAC.