J Street Annual Conference to Host Bernie Sanders, Other Leading Senators

Sanders' appearance at the gathering for the second year in a row signals his growing focus on foreign policy issues

FILE PHOTO: Senator Bernie Sanders, an Independent from Vermont, smiles during a keynote session at the South By Southwest (SXSW) conference in Austin, March 9, 2018.
David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

WASHINGTON - Bernie Sanders and at least three other prominent Democratic senators will speak this year at left-wing J Street's annual conference in mid-April. Sanders, a former presidential candidate and Vermont senator, also spoke before the left-wing Jewish group's conference last year. His second appearance before the conference is a sign of his growing focus on foreign policy issues. 

The most senior Democratic Senator to address the conference this year will be Dick Durbin (D-IL), who is the second-highest ranking Democrat in the Senate. Durbin's appearance is considered an achievement for J Street. Its past conferences have hosted senior speakers from the Obama administration and the House of Representatives but never a senator as senior as Durbin. 

Another interesting name on the list of speakers this year is Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), considered a relatively hawkish Democrat on issues related to Israel and the Middle East. Cardin was one of only five Democrats who voted against the Iran nuclear deal in 2015 - a deal that J Street supported and lobbied in favor of. He is the most senior Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Cardin is also one of the original co-sponsors of the controversial "Israel Anti Boycott Act" promoted by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) opposed by J Street. 

In addition to these three veteran Senators, J Street will also host Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) first elected to the Senate in 2012. Schatz, like Cardin and Sanders, is Jewish. He was among the Democratic legislators who chose to skip Prime Minister Netanyahu's speech before Congress on the Iran deal in 2015 because of the damage he said the speech had caused to the U.S.-Israel relationship. 

J Street spokeswoman Jessica Rosenblum said the organization is "delighted to welcome to our conference stage lawmakers who are so central to shaping U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. Our activists look forward to hearing from these champions of a two-state solution."