I got an email a couple of weeks back informing me that the J Street “Progressive Zionist” organization, sort of like AIPAC’s evil twin (or good, depending on how you view things) was having it’s annual jamboree at the Walter Washington convention center in DC, and would I like to pay a ton of money to go?
I would not.( Pay the ton of money that is.).
So, as I do on occasion, I filled out the press form and sent a bunch of digital clippings. They gave me a ticket. Even better, KAYAK was able to get me a $150 round trip flight to DC. Another sixty bucks for two nights at the youth hostel next to the Convention center and off I went….
“Do you have a card” She said.
“No,” I replied, “why?”
“If you’re a journalist I need to see your business card in order to talk to you”
She was a student you see. She had taken a training course before she came here and was told to be suspicious of skeevy old men with press badges and was told to get the business card and give it to the secret police (or whatever J street calls them). I said there was no reason, because I was only making conversation.
She gave me a very dirty look. I could understand sort of. Netanyahu had just won the election and everyone was to some extent angry and depressed. However they did try to look cheerful. The opening ceremonies were starting soon and I headed up to take my seat.
The first two rows of seats in the grand ballroom were in fact circular tables. I searched around for a while and got a seat with a decent view. The rest of the people around my table were middle aged, behind us were the kids, allegedly there were about a thousand of them from all around the country, and Toronto, Canada, and tonight, they were the stars of the show. Lights! Music!!!!! Here we go….
Onstage comes J-Street Morton Halpburn, who gets a standing ovation. He thanks the crowd , and starts on a short and forgettable speech. He then starts talking about “J Street U”, which is their version of Hillel. There’s a fanfare and football music, a bunch of squeaky clean college students enter stage rights looking like something out of the Bradhy Bunch, and in their peppiest voices they start the roll call of the universities. I’m not sure if it’s more of a high school pep rally or a political convention. Clearly this was latter and goes on and on and on. . Then they announce the Hillel’s who decided to come. Apparently the BDSers have somehow managed to split the movement, and the two organizations are actively feuding.. J Street, no matter what else you may have heard, is currently anti-BDS, they think it makes Bibi and his ilk look like victims and it leads to anti-Semitism., both of which are true.
There’s more football music and cheering as President Jeremy Ben Ami is introduced. He’s a thin and wiry gent, with a crooked smile and glasses, kind of nerdy. He starts thanking people lie in awards show, all the kids in general, and the senior staff in particular before shedding his kindly persona and starts tearing Bibi limb from limb before going after the rest of Likud, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and a whole bunch of other people and organizations. The crowd loved it.
Then there was the “Kumbaya” story of two grandmas, one Jewish and one Palestinian, and how they called each other by phone as their governments bombed each other. Very sweet.
Finally there was Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the Union Reform Judaism. who gave an astoundingly good speech. He hit all the right points, wasn’t radical at all, and was almost thrilling. The crowd loved that too. Then came the cake.
We’d get to the really important stuff the following day.