Luncheon lineup reflects J Street's growing influence

Written By Sun-Times Wire Posted: 11/11/2013, 04:36pm

Sign-up for Chicago Sun-Times newsletters.

One of the unspoken messages of J Street’s Chicago luncheon Friday was that the 5-year-old liberal Israel advocacy group occupies a more-visible place in the political spectrum than it did just a few years ago.

“J Street is in a far different place than … three or four years ago,” J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami told the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board Friday. “Our political action committee now endorses nearly half the Democrats in Congress, we’ve raised more money than any other political action committee in the Jewish community that works on Israel, our lunch [Friday] at which Ambassador [Carmi] Gillon is the keynote speaker — Mayor Emanuel is speaking, [Sen.] Dick Durbin is speaking, David Axelrod is speaking — that is a very significant showing that four years ago wouldn’t have happened.”

The luncheon, which honored civic leader Susan Manilow, was at the Standard Club, 320 S. Plymouth.

Top politicians, including Durbin, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Sen. Timothy Kaine, D-Va., “take our endorsement thankfully and openly,” Ben-Ami said. ” … I think there has been a big change in these dynamics.”

J Street is perceived as more mainstream than in the past because more American Jews share its perspective, he said.

“Where the change is happening is an understanding that to be pro-Israel and to support its existence and defense doesn’t mean that you have to support every policy of the government of the state of Israel, and as the secretary of state was pointing out just [Thursday] the state of Israel faces a monumental strategic choice,” Ben-Ami said. “It is at a fork in the road of whether it is going to continue to go down a path of settlements and perpetual conflict and essential annexation of the West Bank … or historic compromise of land for peace and resulting in two states for two peoples.”

Follow BackTalk on Twitter@CST_Editorials