Democratic leaders to speak at J Street conference highly critical of Israel alongside PLO members

Schumer and Pelosi will speak at a conference that includes speakers from anti-Israel organizations such as IfNotNow, the New Israel Fund, and the PLO national and central councils.


U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other Democratic members of Congress and elected officials plan to address the annual J Street National Conference later this month, also featuring speakers from anti-Israel organizations including IfNotNow, the New Israel Fund, and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) national and central councils.

Schumer and Pelosi are frequent speakers at the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, one of J Street’s main rivals.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) are also scheduled to speak at the conference, which will be held Oct. 26-29 in Washington, D.C.

Jayapal was one of 17 representatives to vote against a July resolution in the U.S. House of Representatives condemning the anti-Israel BDS movement, while Van Hollen was one of 23 senators in February to vote against the Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act, which, if enacted, would impose new sanctions on Syria, boost security cooperation with Israel and Jordan, and allow state and local governments the right to punish state or local contractors from engaging in boycotting Israel.

JNS has reached out to their congressional offices for comment about their participation in the conference.

Additionally, Jewish Democratic Council of America executive director Halie Soifer, IfNotNow founder Emily Meyer and Bashar Azzeh, a member of the PLO Central Council, are listed as speakers.

JNS has reached out to JDCA and IfNotNow for comment about their participation in the event.

Accusations of Anti-Semitism and Anti-Zionism

IfNotNow has been accused of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. According to its mission, the organization seeks to “end American Jewish support for the occupation,” which advocates say is “is a system of violence and separation by which Israel denies Palestinians freedom and dignity by depriving them of civil, political and economic rights.”

The group has been approaching Democratic presidential candidates as representatives of the Jewish community and asking them about ending the so-called “occupation” of Judea and Samaria.

The term “occupation” initially applied to areas the Israelis oversaw after gaining land (eastern Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights and much of the Sinai) in the 1967 Six-Day War—land the Arabs refused to negotiate as part of the Khartoum Conference in 1968, signified by “three no’s” in reference to Israel: no peace, no recognition, no negotiations.

Ever since then, the word “occupation” has been used by anti-Israel groups to try to delegitimize Israel. Yet as with most terminology used in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, no clear definition exists, even after the Palestinian Authority has overseen Arab-majority sections (known as Area A under the Oslo Accords) of Judea and Samaria since 1994 and Hamas has run Gaza since 2007 (taking it away from the P.A. after Israelis withdrew in 2005).

Egypt negotiated with Israel to get the Sinai back in 1982 as part of direct negotiations with Israel.

‘Occupied’ Territory?

Still, some consider all of Israel to be “occupied” territory.

“We understand the Occupation as the military rule over Palestinians” in Judea and Samaria, eastern Jerusalem and Gaza, IfNotNow spokesperson Yonah Lieberman previously told JNS. “We also know that the discrimination and displacement inside Israel’s 1948 borders are connected to its rule in those Occupied Territories. This system of violence deprives all Palestinians of civil, political and economic rights.”

“Obviously, IfNotNow is not part of the mainstream of the Democratic Party,” former National Jewish Democratic Council head Aaron Keyak previously told JNS. “In fact, I think if you posed the question to them, they’d agree and they certainly don’t try to hide it. In IfNotNow’s organizational principles they clearly refuse to take a stance against BDS or in support of the two-state solution.”

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Controversial NGOs

The New Israel Fund is the largest financier of Israel’s left-wing civil society and funds highly controversial NGOs, including Breaking the Silence, B’Tselem and Adalah.

Im Tirtzu CEO Matan Peleg has said that “leading members of the New Israel Fund, for example, clearly stated that the NIF and its organizations represent the opposition in Israel; the same foreign opposition that is working to topple the elected government and change its policy. This is a dangerous phenomenon that exploits Israeli democracy in order to harm it, and needs to be stopped immediately.”

Finally, the PLO is known to be behind violence against Israelis, including during the Second Intifada from 2000 to 2005, despite recognizing in 1993 Israel’s right to exist.

The PLO mission in Washington, D.C., was shuttered in October 2018.