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J Street Reacts to Clinton, AIPAC

After Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s address to AIPAC, I caught up with two representatives of J Street, the younger and more progressive pro-Israel/pro-peace lobby, to find out what they made of both the speech and its reception.

“The speech was very good overall,” said Hadar Susskind, J Street’s policy and strategy director. “She’s good on content, and she obviously knows and understands intimately the room she’s in.” Susskind gave Clinton high marks for the speech’s forceful challenge to Iranian nuclear ambitions and Palestinian incitement ahead of “the issue at hand, and the real substantive disagreement the U.S. administration and the Israeli administration have. She did a nice job of saying we’re all coming at this with the same goals.”

On Clinton’s brief reminder that the perpetuation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict damages U.S. interests in the Middle East — a notion that Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League called “dangerous and counterproductive” last week in rebuking, of all people, Gen. David Petraeus — Susskind said, “It’s unquestionably a true fact that this issue has an impact on U.S. issues with the rest of the world. You can argue that shouldn’t be the case, but you can’t really argue that it doesn’t, and I think she was merely stating the fact.”

Susskind and J Street spokeswoman Amy Spitalnick were generally pleased with the reaction Clinton got from AIPAC’s delegates, although expectations were pretty low. “I was happy she didn’t get booed,” Susskind said. “Our interest is in having a safe, secure, Jewish democratic Israel, and that’s what the U.S. is working toward.”

I asked them how they’ve been received, as AIPAC has tended to look upon J Street as something between an annoying lefty younger cousin and the insufferable kid who threatens the harmony of the family seder. Spitalnick said she walked into the conference yesterday and overheard an older couple “saying, you know, ‘How can an entire group of Jews be against AIPAC, be against Israel?’ And the wife goes, ‘Oh, you mean J Street?’ and the husband goes, ‘Of course.’

“So I go, ‘Hey, I’m J Street, and I’m here, and I am enjoying this conference and I don’t think I’m against Israel because I love Israel, and I don’t think I’m against AIPAC either, and by no means are we here to oppose AIPAC.’ And we had a nice conversation. We were waiting to get into the evening plenary, and by the end she took my card and said she was going to read our literature, learn more and hope she’s able to understand a little bit more.”

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