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Q&A: Ben-Ami ’84, founder of J Street

Jeremy Ben-Ami84 spoke on campus Tuesday afternoon about the present-day politics of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.Ben-Ami, the founder and president of advocacy group J Street, spoke to The Daily Princetonian about changes in the political climate on campus, particularly regarding Israel-Palestine.

The Daily Princetonian: You mentioned that you’ve lectured on campus in the past. How has the content of your talk changed? How do you think the campus reaction has changed?


Jeremy Ben-Ami: The talk that I give reflects the reality of the day. So, today, there are active negotiations happening between Israelis and Palestinians; that has never been the case before in J Street’s existence. And so the focus now is how do you make the talks a success, rather than how to start the talks.

J Street U[the student organizing branch of J Street] seems to me, in a brief visit, to be vibrant and strong and to have a large constituency. When I came a couple of years ago there were a few students who were interested but no real core of activism, and that’s a big change in just two years, and it’s exciting for me to see.

DP: Were you involved in political activities as a student on campus?

JBA: When I was a student, the big political issue was the policy of the U.S. toward Central America, and so I was very active in groups and committees that were trying to stop American intervention in El Salvador and Nicaragua and other countries in South America.

DP: Do you think the campus’s attitudes toward advocacy have changed?

JBA: I asked the students that — I don’t know, since I’m not here. When I was a student, we would have a protest outside of Nassau or have a sit-in or do something active and visual. It doesn’t sound like that is as much the case today, but I’m not here; I’m just basing it on what I hear. But the campus seems to be a relatively calm, quiet place, and it certainly seems to be like that, and the discussions are sober and rational and that tone seems more subdued than when I was here.


DP: What is the relationship between J Street U and the national organization?

JBA: Very close. J Street U is one of the most important things that J Street does, actually, because it is the connection of younger Jewish-Americans and other young Americans to Israel that is at risk in traditional pro-Israel advocacy. When you say the only way to be engaged is to give uncritical support to the government of Israel, that doesn’t go over well with young people, who are by nature critical and inquisitive.

DP: How do you think the makeup of your audience has changed?

JBA: Well, they really filled the student area here. There were quite a few dozen students here, as opposed to being almost exclusively the community, and that’s a big change. I didn’t get a chance to see the overflow room, but last time we didn’t have an overflow room.

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DP: Why do you think that is?

JBA: I think the fact that the Iran negotiations and Israel-Palestinian negotiations are active and on the front page makes this seem a more timely and vital issue than, maybe, several years ago.