Israeli envoy chastises J Street for pressuring Israel


WASHINGTON (JTA) — An Israeli diplomat chastised J Street for pressuring Israel on diplomatic issues.

The arrival of Barukh Binah, the deputy chief of mission at Israel’s Washington embassy, was greeted with enthusiastic applause at the gala dinner Monday night of J Street’s annual conference.

He is the first Israeli diplomat to attend a conference of the liberal pro-Israel group since its establishment in 2008.

A good deal of Binah’s speech, however, was reproachful, and earned silence.

"We need you to stand with us," he said. "It is as simple as that and someone ought to say it. Internal activism is a central part of democratic society, but pressures on the elected government of Israel can present us with a problem, davka when we need you the most."

"Davka" is an Israeli emphatic meaning  "especially."

Binah suggested that J Street did not appreciate its potential to harm Israel in the organization’s capacity as a lobbying group.

"I respectfully submit that this relatively new role lays responsibilities before you which I am certain have not been adequately considered," he said. "This, when you bring lawmakers to Israel, please make sure they come out with a full picture."

On its tours, J Street has shown lawmakers Israeli measures in the West Bank that its contends hinder peace, but also has organized meetings with settlers and has highlighted Israeli success stories in immigration and business.

Binah also appealed to J Street not to invite leaders of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement to its conferences, although he also welcomed J Street’s stated repudiation of the movement.

There was no high-profile presence of the movement this year, but BDS supporters were featured on a panel last year.

J Street says such invitations do not imply endorsement, but Binah said that the BDS movement uses groups like J Street to attain legitimacy.

He praised J Street for endorsing Iran sanctions and for rejecting one-sided resolutions at the United Nations.

J Street director Jeremy Ben-Ami pushed back in his response, which immediately followed Binah’s speech.

J Street, Ben-Ami said to loud applause, was founded by those who "wanted a voice grounded in commitment and love for Israel but grounded in the Jewish values in which we were raised, grounded in the democratic values in which Israel was founded."

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