J Street, on the eve of its first annual conference, announced it will be folding a leading national progressive Israel-oriented grassroots organization into its operation.
Absorbing Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, whose name will be phased out, is another sign of J Street's emergence as the dominant voice of the self-described "pro-Israel, pro-peace" movement, as its 1,200-participants-strong convention opens Sunday.
Though Israel's Ambassador to the US Michael Oren refused an invitation to attend and several members of Congress backed out of the event amidst criticism over the organization's policies, the 18-month-old lobby and political action committee will still be featuring top administration officials and several opposition party MKs at the four-day event.
US National Security Adviser James Jones will be delivering the keynote address on Tuesday, while Kadima MKs Meir Sheetrit and Shlomo Molla will also be appearing.
Several Labor members, including MKs Yuli Tamir and Amir Peretz, will also be participating. Kadima Party leader MK Tzipi Livni sent a note to the group expressing her regrets at not being able to attend.
The conference will feature panels on US-Israel relations and diplomacy with Iran, topped off by a gala Tuesday night whose host committee includes some 150 members of Congress.
Though a handful withdrew their names, some because they said they didn't know their staff had put them on the list, those who have confirmed their inclusion include Representative Jane Harman (D-California) and Representative Steve Israel (D-New York). The event will be followed by a lobbying day on Capitol Hill on Wednesday.
Incorporating Brit Tzedek - with 40 chapters and nearly 50,000 members around the country - will provide J Street with a larger grassroots network so that members of Congress also hear from their local constituents.
The alliance will also give J Street a head start on launching its own field operations. J Street has brought on veteran political operative Laurie Moskowitz, who ran the field operation for Al Gore in the 2000 presidential race, among other campaigns, as a senior adviser to coordinate the effort.
"Our job now is to do everything possible to ensure President Obama's success with his peacemaking efforts to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Together with J Street, we can significantly ramp up our strategic grassroots organizing campaigns to the next level," said Steve Masters, Brit Tzedek's president.
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