A glum mood on J Street

J Street, the "political home" for pro-Israel, pro-two state solution (read: anti-AIPAC) American Jews, kicked off its third annual conference in Washington on Saturday night. But despite its massive efforts to mobilize behind President Obama, executive director Jeremy Ben-Ami doesn't seem to be terribly satisfied with the commander in chief's track record in a press roundtable:

"We would like to see the president do more, we'd like to see the administration take a more proactive role in outlining the parameters for a resolution of the conflict, and to build an international coalition of supporters beyond the Quartet."

Ben-Ami also invoked Libya and Iran as examples for the White House to follow as it builds consensus for a two-state solution.

"The way the world was brought together around Libya and around the Iran sanctions, that's the kind of mobilization of international support that the administration will need to do if it wants to re-establish American credibility in foreign policy making."

A panel discussion held during the conference on Sunday about the current prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace took on a bleaker tone. According to Lara Friedman, director of policy and government relations for Americans for Peace Now, the current administration is simply exhausted:

"They were serious, but realized that they didn't have the political stomach...They thought they had the will to see it through, but they got exhausted."

Nadav Eyal of Israel's Maariv newspaper added that the president does not appear to be invested in the issue:

"Obama needs to come into this personally, and he has not done that."

Leila Hilal, co-director of the New America Foundation's Middle East Task Force, even questioned the viability of the two-state solution itself:

"This is the time to think about new strategies. Two states is a largely hollow and abstract notion, and the Palestinian public has no interest in dead-end talks...Conditions are not ripe, and the U.S. administration cannot force proposals."

For an organization that's supposed to rally support for a peaceful two-state solution, this year's attendees seem fairly pessimistic about the chances of achieving that goal. Ben-Ami may be optimistic that the stars will someday align, but for now J Street's timing is all wrong. 

Amos Ben Gershom/GPO via Getty Images


Pussy Riot vs. Putin

In Communist Czechoslovakia it was the Zappa-inspired absurdism of Plastic People of the Universe. In military-ruled Brazil it was the whimsical psychedelia of Os Mutantes. In Ben Ali's Tunisia it was the aggressive political hip-hop of El General

Now it seems, the anti-Putin opposition may have found its musical standard bearer in the masked, riot grrrl provocateurs of Pussy Riot. The 20-ish anonymous members of the punk-feminist collective have become known for spontaneous stunts like appearing in Red Square to perform a song called "Putin Pissed Himself."

Other songs include "Death to Prison, Freedom to Protest", and "Fuck the Sexist, Fuck Putin's Henchman." But Pussy Riot took things to the next level at the end of February, shortly before Russia's recent presidential election, with an unauthorized "Punk Prayer" inside Moscow's Christ the Saviour cathedral that included lines like "Mother Mary, drive Putin away":

The performance was meant to highlight the Orthodox church's close ties to Putin.  Three members of the band have been arrested and charged with hate crimes and disturbing public order. They have been jailed for at least 60 days pending an investigation. They could face up to seven years behind bars if convicted. The three have reportedly begun a hunger strike in prison.

While some prominent church leaders have called for the court to go easy on the three women, two of whom are mothers of small children, Patriarch Kirill I was not so lenient in a statement this week:

Patriarch Kirill told Russian TV he was sickened by their protest and saddened that Russian orthodox believers would defend the band.

"Those people don't believe in the power of prayer, they believe in the power of propaganda, in the power of lies and slander, in the power of Internet and mass media, in the power of money and weapons. We believe in the power of prayer. I call on the whole Russian Orthodox Church for passionate and diligent praying for our country, for our trust, for our people, for God to forgive us our sin," Kirill said.

According to Putin's press secretary, the president-elect also reacted "negatively" when told about the performance.

Not that the more established leaders of Russia's opposition seem particularly thrilled to have these women, one of whom was previously criticized for taking part in an orgy at a biology museum in 2008, be their standard bearers. Blogger Alexey Navalny thought that jailing the members of the band was excessive, but has described them as "silly girls" who committed a "very stupid but small offense."

It may not be so easy to dismiss the group, however. More than 2,000 people have signed a petition asking the church not to press charges. Three supporters, including a member of the radical art group Voina -- itself known for an NSFW brand of protest -- were arrested at a rally at the courthouse where the women were being tried on March 15. 

Established activists like Navalny might prefer that the Russian opposition not be derailed by skirmishes like the ongoing Pussy Riot trial. But hey, revolutions don't always get to pick their soundtrack. 

(Head over to Democracy Lab for more on Russia's dissident artists.)