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J Street launches conference with Israel outreach message

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

The roster at the opening session Saturday night of the pro-Israel, dovish group’s assembly was nearly all Israeli.

"The best-kept secret about J Street is that most Israelis agree with your goals," said Michael Biton, the mayor of Yerucham, a development city in southern Israel and one of the keynote 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 unite behind the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the mainstream pro-Israel lobby.

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

J Street since its launch in 2008 has been dogged by accusations from centrist and 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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