J Street launches bid to push anti-occupation stance in DNC platform
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J Street launches bid to push anti-occupation stance in DNC platform

On first day of confab, liberal group seeks to pressure 2020 Democrats to take stronger stance against settlement expansion, for Palestinian rights

Eric Cortellessa covers American politics for The Times of Israel.

J Street Executive Director Jeremy Ben-Ami addressing the group’s annual national conference in Washington on April 15, 2018. (Courtesy, J Street)
J Street Executive Director Jeremy Ben-Ami addressing the group’s annual national conference in Washington on April 15, 2018. (Courtesy, J Street)

WASHINGTON — To launch its 2019 national conference Sunday, the liberal Mideast advocacy group J Street announced a new campaign to pressure 2020 Democratic candidates to oppose Israel’s presence in the West Bank, with the goal of getting the party to include in its official platform this summer a formal opposition to the occupation.

J Street leaders and student activists put out a “call to action” to change the platform to more expressly condemn settlement expansion and support Palestinian aspirations.

“Past party platforms have rightly stated a commitment to Israel’s security and included condemnations of threats and actions against our ally,” the petition states. “Those platforms have, however, also been totally silent on the rights of Palestinians, on Israeli actions that undermine those rights and the prospects for a two-state solution, and on the need for security for both peoples.”

The 2016 platform called for a two-state solution, but did not mention settlements or the occupation. It vowed support for ensuring that Israel can maintain its qualitative military edge and castigated the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel.

The new campaign comes as five Democratic presidential candidates plan to attend the liberal Zionist group’s confab, including 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.

The two frontrunners, former US vice president Joe Biden and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, are not slated to address the gathering.

J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami argued that the petition reflected the beliefs of mainstream Democrats.

“The vast majority of Democratic voters believe that the US should support Israel’s security, promote a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and oppose the Israeli government’s policies of occupation and creeping annexation,” Ben-Ami said in a statement. “That approach is good policy and smart politics — which is why the Democrats should firmly commit to it in their party platform.”

Over the last year, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed multiple times to annex the West Bank settlements if reelected.

Last week, the premier told President Reuven Rivlin that he could not form a government, giving Blue and White leader Benny Gantz the next chance before Israelis would have to face another round of elections — the third in under a year.

The two are now in talks for a potential unity government.

The J Street conference kicked off Sunday and will continue until Tuesday, October 29, in Washington, DC.

In addition to 2020 hopefuls, Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will also attend and address the conference.

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