Setting the Record Straight on MK Odeh’s Appearance at the J Street Conference

Jeremy Ben-Ami Image
Jeremy Ben-Ami
on March 6, 2017

I am deeply disappointed that Haaretz chose to run a story regarding Chairman of the Joint List Ayman Odeh’s appearance at J Street’s 2017 National Conference that contains significant errors and mischaracterizations.

J Street is proud to have hosted MK Ayman Odeh as a featured speaker at our conference. We are also pleased to have had a strong working relationship with the Joint List over the past couple of years.

The article states that, after MK Odeh spoke, I was meters away and refused to shake his hand. This is simply factually untrue. I was nowhere near the back of the stage where speakers enter and exit and certainly did not “demonstrably” avoid shaking his hand.

I informed the Haaretz reporter of this error, and the staff person I was standing with at the back of the conference hall at the time of MK Odeh’s speech confirmed that I was nowhere near MK Odeh as he exited the stage.

In fact, when I next saw MK Odeh I shook his hand, thanked him for his speech and wished him well on his travel home. That was the extent of our interaction after the speech.

I am not – and the organization is not – “angry” at MK Odeh for anything he said.

It is J Street’s view that our national conference is not the right venue for attacks by one Israeli party on another over domestic issues, even more when the other party has no opportunity to respond. J Street asks all major political speakers to use their appearance on our stage to lay out views about the future of the state of Israel and of US-Israel relations. I had a very friendly breakfast with MK Odeh to lay out our perspective on this ahead of the conference.

There were and are no other disagreements between MK Odeh and J Street. The article implies that J Street had a “disagreement” with MK Odeh over a meeting he held with Jewish Voice for Peace. Nothing could be further from the truth. Our speakers undoubtedly have lots of meetings when in town for the conference, and who they meet with is their business. This remains a free country, as I told the reporter for Haaretz, and J Street has no control over and no interest in the meetings that its guests choose to have.

It is not clear why Haaretz went ahead with an article that contains such serious inaccuracies, but it is a shame if the impact is to give an incorrect impression about J Street’s view of MK Odeh’s appearance.

To set the record straight, therefore, it should be clear that we hold MK Odeh in high regard, are grateful for his appearance and look forward to continuing to have a strong working relationship with him and the Joint List going forward. In fact, we hope to have strong relationships with all Israeli political parties, though we will undoubtedly have both agreements and disagreements with all of them over the years.

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