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Posted at 11:40 AM ET, 02/28/2011

Dennis Ross disappoints J Street

By Jennifer Rubin

The administration's chief Middle East adviser Dennis Ross went to the J Street confab. It was an odd assignment, given that J Street, in concert with the pro-Iranian-regime NIAC had conspired to try to prevent his appointment. The applause greeting him was slight, almost imperceptible.

Ross in some clever ways communicated to J Street that its agenda and strategy are out of touch with reality. J Street perpetrates the myth that Israel, and specifically Israel's settlements, are the center of most if not all woes in the region. He, however, didn't mention "Israel" for the vast majority of his address and never referred to "settlements." Instead, he explained that the main issue in the Middle East is the toppling of autocratic regimes. He told the group that from "Algeria to Yemen" pressure is coming from the people of the Middle East. Using a term the left likes to apply to Israel's possession of the West Bank, Ross said that the old autocratic regimes are "unsustainable." Granted, his address was exceedingly dull and delivered in a monotone, but one couldn't ignore the utter silence -- indifference, perhaps -- when the topics of freedom, revolutionary change, and Muslim despots were discussed. And when he stressed the need for Muslim states to focus on internal reform without blaming Israel, the crowd, again, seemed not to notice or care that he was ridiculing J Street's own obsession with Israel and its settlements. (He, of course, tried some historical revisionism, explaining how the administration had been pressing Egypt for reforms from the beginning.)

When Ross did get around to Israel the bulk of his comments were about the U.S.-Israel military relationship. He declared that the administration's "fundamental principle is an unshakable commitment to Israel's security." Applause was tepid. (Not what this crowd paid to hear.) He asserted, "There has never been a time when the security relationship has been stronger. And that's a fact." Again, only very brief applause.

At the tail end of the speech, he finally got to the peace process, saying the "status quo was unsustainable." That got the crowd mildly excited, for now he might be getting around to their main goal -- hammering Israel. But alas, he declared, "There is no substitute for a negotiated peace." Dead silence. (You can see the thought bubbles: "Where does this guy think he is -- AIPAC?)

In his wind-up, he got around to Iran. He noted the "irony" of the regime taking credit for events in Egypt. (He muffed the line and instead said "taking credit for Iran.") And on Iran's nuclear program, he gave the Obama-approved squishy line, saying we are determined to try to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons.

With near-comic timing, the J Street host the immediately asked Ross whether it wasn't time for an American "initiative" (i.e. an imposed peace deal) to resolve the Palestinian conflict. As a trained diplomat, Ross resisted the urge to respond, "Weren't you listening?" Instead, he said the administration is "working in a different direction" (as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton laid out in a speech in November), namely talking separately with the parties. He cautioned that the "preoccupation" of the region is the relationship between the "rulers and the ruled."

The host tried again, asking if it wasn't time to publicly make a proposal. Once more, Ross explained what the administration was doing (private, quiet talks). He was asked about the Palestinians' unilateral attempts to obtain recognition. Ross said firmly, "Unilateral moves are not going to produce an agreement." He said the U.N. was "not the forum" for these discussions. Dead silence.

Last year, the administration sent National Security Adviser James Jones to J Street. This year the representative was a step lower in the White House hierarchy. Moreover, he gave the crowd no fodder for its Israel-bashing and zero indication he shared its agenda.

I suppose next year the administration could send an intern (continuing the downward spiral of respect). But it's an election year, so the Obama team might wise up and send no one, for fear that the administration's decision to speak before a group infamous for its dishonest finances and enthralled with public bashing of Israel might undermine its own "pro-Israel" credentials. But, then again, J Street -- if it is still around -- might not want to have someone who is going to undermine, rather than parrot, its talking points.

By Jennifer Rubin  | February 28, 2011; 11:40 AM ET
Categories:  American Jews  
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The conference is fabulous. So many interesting discussions, positive energy, and frank, sensible talk from people who are devoted to Israel but know that the status quo can't continue or Israel will no longer be a Jewish democratic state.

Ross did indeed disappoint. He minimized his comments on Israel because, sadly, after two years, the Obama administration has nothing to report. There's no peace process. Ross offered no vision of what the Obama administration is going to do next, other than brief mention of vague "private conversations," which, folks, is code for "nothin's happenin." How's that for leadership?

Jennifer needn't worry. J Street will be around next year so she'll be able to continue being nasty to Jews. It's more than a third bigger than it was last year.

Posted by: dancingcat | February 28, 2011 1:02 PM | Report abuse

"At the tail end of the speech, [Ross] finally got to the peace process, saying the "status quo was unsustainable." That got the crowd mildly excited, for now he might be getting around to their main goal -- hammering Israel. But alas, he declared, "There is no substitute for a negotiated peace." Dead silence.

The thought bubbles going off in the audience reflected amazement that Ross would contradict himself. A so-called "negotiated peace" IS the "unsustainable" status quo.

Posted by: ConscientiousObjector1 | February 28, 2011 1:04 PM | Report abuse

dancingcat, do you have a website? Are you live blogging the event on Twitter?

Posted by: ConscientiousObjector1 | February 28, 2011 1:05 PM | Report abuse

Jennifer Rubin is correct in only thing. Dennis Ross’s “address was exceedingly dull and delivered in a monotone”. Actually I would go further and state Ross wasted a great opportunity to engage J Street and open himself to other points of view, not to mention he wasted the conference’s time.
Other than that I am not sure if Rubin watched the same speech as I did. I felt the crowd applauded Ross’s vacuous statements far more enthusiastically and far too often than he deserved. I do not think it is the U.S.’s obligation to protect, or to stand up for it when Israel is clearly violating international and human laws. And if, according to this article, J Street is anti-Israel then how does one explain the presence of elected members of the Knesset who are participating in the conference and who passionately understand and share J Street’s message.
Rubin’s article is living testament to exactly what J Street is encountering. Badgering and bashing of a Jewish organization just because it wants peace for Israel. I find it sad that decent and noble Jews and intellectuals do not impress this columnist.
And to the last point Ms Rubin makes “..if J Street is still around next year…”. She knows full well J Street has started a storm of truth and integrity which will only gain strength with time. Next year they will have to find a larger venue as I will not be the least bit surprised if the conference size does not grow to triple of what it is this year.
Just for good measure, I should advise that I am a Muslim. Zafar Khan. sajepress

Posted by: zafarz | February 28, 2011 1:09 PM | Report abuse

J.R.'s post sounds like a review of a Mets game attended by a Yankees fan.

Posted by: mfray | February 28, 2011 1:16 PM | Report abuse

"'There's no substitute for negotiated peace' [said Ross]. Dead silence."

What else does one need to know about this J Street crowd?

Posted by: eoniii | February 28, 2011 2:40 PM | Report abuse

Congratulations, Mrs. Rubin. This is what, your 8th article attacking J Street? That's what most people would call a "vandetta."

Most people familiar with Jewish-American politics understand Mrs. Rubin is a professional attack dog who will smear anyone who dares to critize anything Israel ever does. J Street is clearly her favorite target because they threaten the dominance of AIPAC.

But many readers are probably less familiar with NIAC (the National Iranian American Council), a grassroots group that Mrs. Rubin also attacks because it opposes a US-Iran war.

Spend 30 seconds on their website and you'll see how ridiculous Mrs. Rubins attacks are:

If you need more convincing, take action to support human rights in Iran on their website:

Mrs. Rubin needs an editor. Or better yet, a job where facts don't matter.

Posted by: Azadi2011 | February 28, 2011 5:00 PM | Report abuse

Game, set, match, JR!
"In his wind-up, he got around to Iran. He noted the "irony" of the regime taking credit for events in Egypt. (He muffed the line and instead said "taking credit for Iran.") "

Technical term is a Froodian slip-brain f#rt. The flustered Mr. Ross was I-raqing his brain to avoid that word "Iran" after saying the word "irony", which sounds similar, only to hear himself saying it. Oops. Too many Irans in the fire and cooks spoiling the broth over at the Foggy Bottom these days, I guess. Was he looking back at you looking back at him looking back at you looking back at him while he spoke, Jennifer?

Posted by: aardunza | February 28, 2011 6:18 PM | Report abuse

Most of what Ms. Rubin is so blatantly one sided (you actually couldn't expect anything more from her)and the critiques above have covered most of her intellectual errors. But while she accuses the Obama administration as being tepid with regard to support for Egyptian democracy, she is delusional with respect to Israeli democracy. While Netanyahu may be democratically elected i.e. not an autocrat in Israel, what is he when he rules over 3 million Palestinians who didn't elect him?

Posted by: wildcat1 | February 28, 2011 11:47 PM | Report abuse

Jennifer, thanks for the posts on the J Street.
What a pathetic group of losers.

Posted by: MartinChuzzlewit | March 1, 2011 8:06 AM | Report abuse

"Jennifer, thanks for the posts on the J Street.
What a pathetic group of losers."

Exactly. After all, what is JStreet doing for us Americans? Isn't the point of a lobbying group to lobby in the best interests of Americans?

Posted by: mfray | March 1, 2011 8:22 AM | Report abuse

For the Zionists it comes really easy to criticize the government of Iran and the Iranian Revolution, This is mostly because the Zionists don't have any Friendly or realistic solution to Iran's problems NOW or prior to the Revolution. For that matter for for their own issues and problems. The Zionists are out of touch and as long as they have us in their back pocket, the money to eat, they will NOT collaborate or conform with the current peace trend to make peace. They will keep their own selfish life style intact by bulldozing the Palestinian homes and expand in to the occupied territories.

We need to stop bailing out the Zionists. Here in this country and stop this obsession with Iran. millions of people lost their jobs, homes and their families fail apart during the shameful Bush administration real state market scams, "bankruptcies" and bail outs. But no one has gone to jail for any of it!! Imagine if that had happened in Iran!! What these people and the outsiders would have said about the government of Iran and how mush they would have complained about the people in charge there?! We call this democratic and free market and just, but what we need is a revolution in this country. We should stop being so arrogant with what is going on in Iran and look at ourselves. Do you think this would have gone unpunished in Iran, if it would have happened there in the first place?! I doubt that very much.

So, come down from your high horses and stick a pin in yourselves and then stick a needle in to the others.

Get real.

Posted by: Esther_Haman | March 2, 2011 11:41 AM | Report abuse

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