Michael Oren and J Street

Anshel Pfeffer thinks Michael Oren, the Israeli ambassador in Washington, should speak at the upcoming J Street conference:

Whatever one thinks of J Street's policies, at least they give a damn. The old guard of the Jewish "leadership" is now trying to delegitimize the lobby, but it is not their business to tell others how they should support Israel. And it certainly isn't for the Israeli ambassador to bestow or withhold his approval from Jewish organizations.

It is quite possible that Oren is simply caving in to pressure from the old Jewish establishment, threatened by the new kids on the street, but his refusal to meet J Street smacks of good old Israeli arrogance. What do these limp-wristed shtetl Jews who have never held an M-16 know about running a country?

From what I know, Oren is definitely not attending the J Street conference, and I believe that his decision has more to do with Washington Jewish politics than it does with his boss's predispositions. AIPAC is the big player in pro-Israel advocacy in Washington; J Street very self-consciously established itself as the left-wing alternative to AIPAC. It's a zero-sum game, and it's understandable bureaucratically why AIPAC would object to Michael Oren's appearance at J Street, even if he went to the conference to yell at them (a possibility that is precluded by Shimon Peres's blessing of J Street's mission. Man, is this inside Jewish baseball, or what?)

In any case, in the best of all possible worlds, Michael Oren would go to J Street and say whatever's on his mind. He has, indeed, spoken to left-wing groups already, but J Street is in a different, problematic class. If, in the coming years, J Street becomes the go-to address for pro-Israel advocacy (or two-state-solution-advocacy) or if AIPAC vanishes, then I'm sure the Israeli ambassador will attend. Until then, I can imagine AIPAC putting up a hard fight each year.

UPDATE: Josh Block, the AIPAC spokesman, just called to tell me that his organization had nothing to do with Oren's decision. He said AIPAC "doesn't give the Israelis advice" on who they should speak to or not speak to.