J Street held its 10th Anniversary Conference in Washington, D.C., from April 14-17th.
Judy Kaye and I, co-chairs of J Street Rhode Island, joined over 3,000 conference attendees, including 1,200 U.S. college students, rabbis, peace activists, members of Congress and the Israeli Knesset, Palestinian officials and temple congregants. The dozens of workshops covered topics such as countering the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement; Middle East policy in the era of Trump; the growth of West Bank settlements; the status of the Iran nuclear agreement; the need for new Palestinian economic and political initiatives; Israel-Diaspora relations; and the growth of anti-Semitism.
Throughout the conference, keynote speakers addressed the troubling political situation in the U.S., Israel and the world. Speakers cast both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Donald Trump as deeply dangerous and problematic leaders.
“All across the globe liberal democracy is in retreat,” J Street president Jeremy Ben Ami declared in his opening address. “J Street proudly opposes these trends, and we couldn’t be clearer about the threat that President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu pose.” Other presentations emphasized how both leaders undercut democratic norms by marginalizing dissent, delegitimizing media and demonizing immigrants and minorities.
In a speech at one of the conference’s plenary sessions, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) expressed concern over the ongoing violence and suffering on Israel’s border with Gaza: “I have condemned Hamas’ use of terrorist violence and will continue to do so. But that violence cannot excuse shooting unarmed protesters.” In an effort to help alleviate the major humanitarian crisis destabilizing Gaza, Sanders has circulated a letter among his Senate colleagues which urges the Trump administration to take immediate action. The letter asks the administration to unfreeze U.S. funding of the UN Relief & Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees and to support other measures that could help improve the lives of Gaza residents.
Other prominent speakers at the three-day conference included Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL.), Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Brian Schatz (D-HI); former National Security Advisor Susan Rice; former U.S. Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell; Ambassador Dr. Husam Zomlot (chief representative of the Palestinian delegation to the US), and Members of Knesset Tzipi Livni, Merav Michaeli and Tamar Zandberg.
On J Street’s National Advocacy Day following the conference, we joined in meetings with Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Rep. David Cicilline to discuss advocacy priorities.
J Street advocates for a safe, secure and democratic homeland for the Jewish people in Israel, while working toward a two-state peace agreement that would ensure self-determination for the Palestinian people in a state of their own.
SUSAN SKLAR is co-chair of J Street Rhode Island.