This is the kind of attitude that I’m hearing constantly here at the J Street conference in Washington DC (time to redefine what it means to be Jewish, critical and pro-peace):
J Street’s university arm has dropped the “pro-Israel” part of the left-wing US lobby’s “pro-Israel, pro-peace” slogan to avoid alienating students.
That decision was part of the message conveyed to young activists who attended a special weekend program for students ahead of J Street’s first annual conference, which began on Sunday.
Students are seen as a key component of the 18-month-old organization’s constituency base and the conference itself. The multi-day event has incorporated new technology and interactive forums to harness their energy and garner feedback from the audience, which swelled to 1,500 on Monday and created overflow plenary and breakout sessions.
At their earlier weekend session, the 250 participating students mapped out strategies for bringing J Street’s approach to college campuses and encouraging students to join in the effort.
“We don’t want to isolate people because they don’t feel quite so comfortable with ‘pro-Israel,’ so we say ‘pro-peace,'” said American University junior Lauren Barr of the “J Street U” slogan, “but behind that is ‘pro-Israel.'”
Barr, secretary of the J Street U student board that decided the slogan’s terminology, explained that on campus, “people feel alienated when the conversation revolves around a connection to Israel only, because people feel connected to Palestine, people feel connected to social justice, people feel connected to the Middle East.”
She noted that the individual student chapters would be free to add “pro-Israel,” “pro-Israel, pro-Palestine,” or other wording that they felt would be effective on this issue, since “it’s up to the individuals on campus to know their audience.”
Yonatan Shechter, a junior at Hampshire College, said the ultra-liberal Massachusetts campus is inhospitable to terms like “Zionist” and that when his former organization, the Union of Progressive Zionists (which has been absorbed into J Street U), dropped that last word of its name, “people were so relieved.”