The buzz surrounding the J Street conference at the Grant Hyatt Hotel in DC has apparently gotten around. The latest numbers indicate that 1500 people are in attendance — blame late walk-in registrants for the lower number reported earlier — and roughly 150 members of the press are currently milling about (including yours truly).
In addition, nearly 250 student representatives from 70 college campuses are taking part, representing what J Street executive director Jeremy Ben-Ami calls a "different set of emotions" when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Young people, explained Ben-Ami, have different associations with the state of Israel, as he says is only natural for those with a separate set of life experiences. J Street, he believes, is an organization which embraces these voices.
Ben-Ami offered some colorful responses to reporters in a midday press briefing Monday, calling the idea of a one-state solution a "one-state nightmare."
A question regarding the wall dividing Israel and the West Bank prompted Ben-Ami to respond, "good fences make good neighbors." The problem, he stressed, is not the wall’s existence but its placement. He explained that a defined border, agreed upon by both Israeli and Palestinian authorities, must be established.
When asked his thoughts on the suggestion that J Street was a thorn in the side of Capitol Hill lawmakers, said Ben-Ami with a smile, "We’re here to help." The Jewish perspective held by those with most political capital, he said, is not that held by most American Jews. These organizations, which Ben-Ami failed to name, have "for too long spoken for the community."
Ben-Ami said Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren’s decision not to attend the conference "a serious mistake," and called the conference "truly the birth of a movement." Time will tell.