J Street gets comeuppance from Israeli diplomat at its annual conference Updated: NYT censors the remarks

J Street, the leftist group that describes itself as "pro-Israel" and "pro-peace" but is more deserving of an "anti-Israel' and "anti-peace" label, got a long overdue comeuppance at its annual conference in Washington, D.C. this week.

 Administering a forceful spanking of J Street was none other than the No. 2 diplomat at the Israeli Embassy, Deputy Ambassador Barukh Bina.  While his address to thousands of J Street supporters was couched in diplomatic language, it turned into a ringing indictment of J Street's agenda.

Financed by the likes of George Soros, J Street has positioned itself as an all-out opponent of AIPAC, a genuine pro-Israel advocacy group that represents a far bigger slice of American Jewry than upstart J Street and, for its efforts, was repeatedly vilified during the conference.

While J Street has made only relatively few inroads among American Jewry and Israel supporters, its unrestrained criticism of Israeli policies has been a treasure trove for mainstream media eager to quote a "pro-Israel" group to flog Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government.

For this year's conference, J Street corralled several prominent leftist American and Israeli personalities, but its main "get" was the No.2 diplomat in the Israeli Embassy.  Last year, the Embassy stayed away from AIPAC's conference and the year before, it sent only a low-level observer.  This time, it was going to be different.

In the run-up to the conference, Jeremy Ben-Ami, the head of J Street, gloated over his organization's ability to snare Bina as its stellar attraction.  Bina's listing on the program as an honored guest meant that J Street had broken through its isolation as a fringe element and become a bona fide player and a legitimate Jewish voice in matters involving Israel.  Or so Ben-Ami expected things to unfold.

However, it didn't turn out that way.  Bina received a tumultuous welcome from the audience when he began his address.  But as he proceeded to deliver his point-by-point critique of J Street, the crowd was stunned and fell silent.

Bina began by stressing that Israel and the U.S. share the same democratic values -- but pointedly noted that there was also an important difference.  "Unlike your secure existence between those happy shores, an ocean apart from the bad guys," he remarked, "our borders are made of missiles and mayhem."

Then, warming to his theme, Bina said that, while Israel welcomed the views of Jewish groups in the Diaspora, "at the end of the day, it is we, the Israelis who must bear the ultimate burden and may have to pay the ultimate price.  And we, dear friends and family, have no margin of error, none whatsoever."

From these basic premises, Bina went on to urge J Streeters to change their spots -- to end their obsession with Israel as the prime culprit, to take a more balanced view of the Mideast conflict and to acknowledge and proclaim Israel's sterling achievements.

"Stand with us," he told the audience.  "It is as simple as that, and someone ought to say it."  This was the hardest blow for J Street and Ben-Ami -- a double-entendre that sealed Bina's indictment of J Street.  For one thing, it meant that J Street, while proclaiming itself as "pro-Israel," follows a radically different agenda - that it had in effect not been standing up for Israel.  For another thing, it was an unmistakable dig at J Street's real identity -- Stand With US just happens to be a group genuinely supportive of Israel and unrelenting in its defense of the Jewish state -- poles apart from J Street.

Alluding to J Street's lobbying of the Obama administration to take a tougher line against Israel, Bina acknowledged that "internal activism is a central part of democratic society," but he warned that "pressures on the elected government of Israel can present us with a great problem.  Friends, I urge you to stand by our side as Americans, as members of your community, as Jews.  For the sake of our forefathers and our future, we must keep our brotherhood strong."

Not exactly the words Ben-Ami hoped to hear.  But words that badly needed to be said.

Update from Leo Rennert:

The NYT has censored Israeli deputy ambassador's remarks at J Street conference

Reading the March 28 edition of the New York Times, one would conclude that there wasn't a single discordant note at the annual conference of J Street, the self-described "pro-Israel, pro-peace" group ("J Street, Pro-Israel but Opposed to Attacking Iran, Takes Its Message to Washington" by Helene Cooper, page A9).

Spread over six columns, Cooper's article conveys J Street's hostility to AIPAC, the far more powerful and influential pro-Israel lobby, for being too "hawkish." She interviews J Street delegates who make the rounds on Capitol Hill to plead against a pre-emptive attack on Iranian nuclear facilities.  She faithfully reports J Street's attempts to forge a dovish coalition that can demonstrate that American Jewry is not monolithically supportive of Israel's leadership.

And she points to speakers who give some heft to J Street, including high-level Obama administration officials and former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

In doing so, however, Cooper conspicuously omits any reference to a speaker who did not follow J Street's playbook, but challenged it head-on - Israel's deputy ambassador to the United States, Barukh Bina.

None of Bina's remarks, let alone his presence, made its way into the pages of the New York Times.  Yet, his appearance and speech were newsworthy on two counts - a sharp departure from all the other speakers, which left the J Street audience speechless, and a not-so-subtle signal that Israel's democratically elected government views J Street's agenda as potentially harmful to the Jewish state.

With copious coverage of all the pro-J Street doings and utterances at the conference, why was this discordant note overlooked?

Leo Rennert is a former White House correspondent and Washington bureau chief of McClatchy Newspapers

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