WASHINGTON - The October 25 conference in Washington D.C. of left-leaning lobby group J Street is just one week away, but Israel's ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, is still not saying whether he will attend or not. President Shimon Peres has written a welcoming letter to conference participants, J Street said, with his apologies for not being able to attend.
Ambassador Oren spoke Sunday at a Reform synagogue, the Washington Hebrew Congregation, and was asked about his conflict with J Street, but would not say whether he would attend the conference. He said that the American Jewish community's strength was always in its diverse opinions. He praised the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations as an appropriate framework for representing American Jews. He just did not mention that J Street is not included in that organization.
Daniel Kohl, J Street's political director, was in the audience for Oren's speech. He said it was still possible that Oren would accept the organization's invitation to speak at the conference. On the American side, U.S. National Security Adviser James Jones will be a keynote speaker, representing the Obama administration. Senator John Kerry was also invited to speak, as were several members of Congress, former U.S. ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk and others, including former Nebraska Republican senator Chuck Hagel and Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union of Reform Judaism.
The Israelis whom J Street listed as attending the conference include Knesset members and former parliamentarians - Amir Peretz, Shlomo Ben-Ami, MKs Shlomo Molla and Yuli Tamir, and others. J Street is proud that it has drawn MKs not only from the Labor Party but also from Kadima.
Oren told the synagogue audience that the Obama administration's demands for a total freeze on settlement construction was impossible politically and practically. He said for Jews not to live in the land of their forefathers was problematic. But he said today there were no significant differences between the Israeli and U.S. positions on freezing construction, and over a few months a compromise was reached on a limited freeze, which will differentiate East Jerusalem from the West Bank and allow normal life in the settlements.
Oren added that it is still not clear how involved the Americans will be in the direct negotiations with the Palestinians and, more important, on what will be in the negotiations. He said that while the political track was moving slowly, that of economic development in the West Bank was advancing more quickly.
On the subject of Iran, Oren said the American administration is promising Israel on almost a daily basis that the dialog with Iran will not go on forever.
He also said the U.S. was closely cooperating with Israel on the Goldstone Commission report, saying the Americans understood very quickly the report was a disaster that not only serves to delegitimatize Israel but also would be a death blow to the peace process.
Oren's words hinted at criticism of the Obama administration's approach, which, he implied, is learning and adopting more realistic positions. He compared Obama's approach to that of another Nobel Prize-winning U.S. president, Woodrow Wilson.