J Street Lobby Sets Foot in Israel Door, Meet Peres

President Peres hosts the left-wing J Street lobby, which backs talking with Hamas terrorist leaders. Foreign Ministry: J Street is “problematic.”

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Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu, | updated: 22:43

President  Peres meets J Street Leaders
President Peres meets J Street Leaders
Israel news photo: Office of the President

President Shimon Peres hosted the left-wing American J Street lobby Monday and drummed up the need for "good relations with the United States…even when disagreements arise.”

Winning recognition by the President’s office is a plum for J Street, which has tried to entrench itself as a spokesman for American Jewry. Many pro-Arab media outlets have adopted it as an alternative to the long-standing pro-Israel American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) organization.

J Street describes itself as “pro-Israel,” but it has lost some of its shine the past year after severely criticizing Israel’s counterterrorist Operation Cast Lead campaign against Hamas terror. It also has roundly disagreed with Israeli government policies and backed the Goldstone report charging Israel with war crimes in the Cast Lead war.

Its support of Palestinian Authority conditions for recognizition as an independent country has made it the darling of U.S. President Barack Obama, who has hosted its leaders in the White House.

In the meeting in Jerusalem on Monday, President Peres did not publicly mention any contentious issues, such as the status of Jerusalem, which J Street wants to be a divided capital for both Israel and the PA. The President's office issued a statement that the lobby’s delegation of approximately 40 leaders discussed Israel’s polices regarding Iran, talks with the PA and relations with the United States.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told Israel National News that J Street did not ask to meet with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman but that the ministry would not boycott the lobby. “Their visit was coordinated with the Foreign Ministry. The group is problematic, but there are other Jewish organizations that also are problematic,” he said.

Palmor noted that J Street poses a particular dilemma because of its growing influence within the American government.

Several months ago, Michael Oren (pictured on left), Israeli Ambassador to the United States, refused an invitation by the lobby to appear at its conference, creating a stir in the left-wing American community. In February, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon refused to meet American congressmen who were visiting Israel on a trip arranged by J Street.

Two weeks ago, month, Oren tried to smooth relations and invited J Street director Jeremy Ben-Ami to the Israeli embassy in Washington, and both men issued friendly statements about working with each other.

"I applaud the Ambassador's commitment to building a bridge to the pro-Israel, pro-peace community in the months since our national conference," Ben-Ami said. "The ambassador clearly recognizes the importance of dialogue and communication between the State of Israel and those parts of the American Jewish community that are deeply pro-Israel but at times disagree with the policies of its government.