"President Obama convinced Putin to give up his nuclear weapons by getting him (Putin) to see that it was in his interest to do so." Thus said vice president Joe Biden at the J Street Conference's keynote giving credence to my own comments two weeks ago about Putin's Machiavellian behavior.
In any case, the J Street Conference of September 2013 is definitely a different place from the one that I attended in March 2012 or in February 2011. For one thing, more people, over 3000 of them. The ballroom that held the student session in 2012 could now barely hold a western"regional breakout." With a total of 3000 participants and almost 900 students, the J Street conference has transformed to one of the largest events in organized American Jewish life.
Furthermore, the event had become much more serious. A snaking security checkpoint preceded an appearance by the vice-president, but even before then-an army of staff (many of whom I no longer know) displayed an attitude of "professional" stiffness towards the crowds which they directed. Of course, the coincidence of the conference with the Iran talks and Middle East peace process injected a chilling sense of power politics into conference sessions on this issue.
Most importantly, the conference's focus on J Street's "pro-Israel" credentials, which shared the stage at previous conferences with a steadfast emphasis on concern for human rights and the occupation, clearly trumpeted in this latest meeting, whether in the militaristic opening speech of Tzipi Livni or the pandering keynote address by the Vice President. It is sad for me, as a Jew who has long sought a Jewish arena that could expand the conversation beyond the steadfast pro-Israel bind. Though expecting to relive a dashing quest of youthful activism, I ended watching from the sidelines as a hardened cynic.