J Street says it invited boycott advocate to its conference so as to pillory her

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Boy the Jewish community is in trouble. Democracy is breaking out in Egypt, but here  is Richard Greenberg in the Washington Jewish Week reporting on the J Street conference at the end of the month to which the wonderful Rebecca Vilkomerson has been invited so that people can throw rotten tomatoes at her. Orthodoxy, heresy, the whole nine yards. Good times!

In fairness to Jeremy Ben-Ami, the head of J Street, who disses Vilkomerson, he is playing a double game. It is great that he invited Vilkomerson; but he has to say this kind of sh-t because the Jewish community is so backward. In private, I am sure he would tell you that he needs Vilkomerson: because his own liberal base is vomiting over Israel’s behavior, and he needs to address them, he needs to honor what her group Jewish Voice for Peace is doing on his left. Privately I bet Ben-Ami is also in favor of boycotting goods from the illegal colonies of the West Bank that have demolished the two-state solution. Would he say so publicly? Never.

The event is scheduled to take place Feb. 26-March 1 at the Washington Convention Center in D.C., where panelists will discuss topics ranging from “Do Israelis ‘Care About Peace’ ” to “The Revival of the Israeli Left” to “The Campus Challenge: Changing the Conversation in an Environment of Extreme Polarization.” 

The list of speakers numbers at least 60 and includes Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism; Daniel Sokatch, CEO of the New Israel Fund; and journalists Peter Beinart, Eric Alterman and Gershom Gorenberg. 

Among the more controversial speakers is Rebecca Vilkomerson, executive director of Jewish Voices for Peace, which advocates the use of BDS (boycotts, divestment and sanctions) against Israel. BDS has been roundly condemned in the mainstream Jewish community because it serves to demonize and deligitimize Israel.

J Street, too, opposes BDS, noted Ben-Ami, who said he is not concerned that the appearance of Vilkomerson might legitimize BDS. Rather, she was invited to air her views, he explained, so that conference attendees who might be “tempted” to embrace BDS will think otherwise after they see its moral and tactical failings exposed in debate. (Vilkomerson is scheduled to appear Feb. 28 on a panel along with three opponents of BDS.)

And one other shot at J Street before I’m done. At their conference in Oct. 2009 a speaker dissed me from the stage. I didn’t have the presence of mind to call Jonathan Chait out on the spot. Victory to Chait! But let me say this clearly: I am older than any of these people, Chait or Ben-Ami, Beinart and Eric Alterman, too, and in one Jewish sense I have had complete integrity, my life has been dedicated in its way to integrationism, a very old Jewish idea that Jews should seek to play their part in western society, rather than setting up militarist colonialist nations with the unending backing of Jews in New York and Washington. And I would challenge any of these people to a simple debate: Do you as a privileged American Jew feel a need for a Jewish national refuge? Why? This is a debate not about Israel, it’s about the United States and Europe. Can’t wait!

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