Numerous 2020 Democratic candidates set to attend J Street conference

Sanders, Buttigieg, Klobuchar, Castro, Bennet to speak at annual gathering of progressive Jews; frontrunners Biden and Warren will not

US Senator Bernie Sanders speaking at the J Street 2017 National Conference at the Washington Convention Center, Feb. 27, 2017. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images via JTA)
US Senator Bernie Sanders speaking at the J Street 2017 National Conference at the Washington Convention Center, Feb. 27, 2017. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images via JTA)

WASHINGTON — Several of the leading 2020 Democratic presidential candidates will appear at the J Street national conference later this month.

It will be the first major forum where the candidates will be asked about their views on US foreign policy regarding Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The liberal Mideast advocacy group announced on Wednesday that the following candidates will attend its confab: Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, former Housing and Urban Development secretary Julian Castro and Colorado Senator Michael Bennet.

Each candidate will be interviewed individually by former Obama administration national security officials Ben Rhodes and Tommy Vietor, the co-hosts of the popular podcast Pod Save the World.

“We’re excited that these presidential candidates will be sharing their visions for the future of US foreign policy with thousands of pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans,” J Street president Jeremy Ben-Ami said in a statement.

“As our movement works to help defeat Donald Trump, we want to hear how those running to replace him in the White House plan to revitalize diplomacy, confront the global threat of rising ethno-nationalism and promote a more just and peaceful future for Israelis and Palestinians.”

Sanders is currently polling third in the Real Clear Politics average, while Buttigieg is in fourth place.

Not on the attendance list are the two current Democrat frontrunners: former vice president Joe Biden and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. Biden has previously appeared at the J Street conference, most recently in 2016, the last gathering the group held while Obama was in office.

In July, Warren told activists from IfNotNow, the anti-occupation Jewish group, that she would push the Israeli government to end the occupation.

While Sanders has addressed the J Street conference in the past — and has closely aligned himself with the organization’s views toward the conflict and Iran — it will be the first time the others address the annual gathering of progressive American Jews.

Klobuchar and Bennet, among the more moderate candidates vying for the nomination, are the only two Democratic senators running for president who voted in favor of a bill to allow state and municipal governments to punish companies that boycott, divest from or place sanctions on Israel.

J Street, which opposes the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, vehemently opposed the legislation as an infringement on Americans’ free speech rights.

Jeremy Ben-Ami, J Street’s founder and director, speaking at the group’s 2012 conference. (Courtesy J Street)

Throughout the campaign, Buttigieg has expressed beliefs consistent with J Street positions, including the need to pressure Israel to adopt policies more in line with liberal values.

“I do not believe that the right approach is to endorse wholesale the agenda of the current government,” Buttigieg told a group of prominent Jewish activists in May.

“The right approach comes about when you have an ally or a friend [who] is taking steps that you think are harmful and you put your arm around your friend and try to guide them somewhere else. That’s part of how our alliance works. And I think American leadership is needed, in particular, with respect to our ally Israel at a moment like this.”

Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will also attend and address the conference, which will be held October 26 through October 29 in Washington, DC.

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