J Street launches conference with Israel outreach message

 WASHINGTON (JTA) — J Street launched its latest annual conference with an emphasis on reaching out to Israelis.

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Anat Cohen at The Sheldon

The roster at the opening session Saturday night of the pro-Israel, dovish group was almost entirely Israeli.

“The best-kept secret about J st is that most Israelis agree with your goals,” said Michael Biton, the mayor of Yerucham, a development city in southern Israel, one of the key-note speakers at the opening event.

Also speaking was Stav Shaffir, a founder of the social protest movements in Israel last summer, and Amos Oz, the novelist and veteran peace activist.

Oz urged American Jews to back J Street, and not the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

“No one can claim Zionism for themselves, it’s a surname,” he said.

J Street has been dogged since its launch in 2008 by accusations from right wing pro-Israel groups that it does not have an indigenous Israeli constituency.

The conference theme is “Making History,” and other featured speakers include Ehud Olmert, the former Israeli prime minister, and Valerie Jarrett, a top adviser to President Obama.

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