More Democrats seeking the 2020 presidency are pulling out of attending next week’s AIPAC conference - a sign that support for the bipartisan lobbying group could be fading.
Multiple Democratic presidential candidates are giving next week’s American Israel Public Affairs Committee's (AIPAC) annual conference in Washington a miss.
Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, former US Representative Beto O'Rourke of Texas, and Senator Kamala Harris of California, are among the 2020 contenders who are skipping the annual conference.
It comes as the liberal advocacy group MoveOn has called on Democratic presidential candidates to avoid this year's policy conference, saying AIPAC had tried to thwart the Iran nuclear deal and had employed "anti-Muslim and anti-Arab rhetoric".
MoveOn is calling on 2020 presidential candidates to not attend the AIPAC conference.— MoveOn (@MoveOn) March 20, 2019
Here are 4 reasons why:
#2— MoveOn (@MoveOn) March 20, 2019
AIPAC has been known to peddle anti-Muslim and anti-Arab rhetoric while giving platforms to those involved in human rights abuses.
Netanyahu also recently made a deal to bring the "Israeli KKK" ultra-racist party into the next government.— MoveOn (@MoveOn) March 20, 2019
It’s time for progressives to recognize where their base stands––which means upholding progressive principles on domestic AND foreign policy.— MoveOn (@MoveOn) March 20, 2019
Focus on AIPAC sharpened recently when congresswoman Ilhan Omar came under fire for saying that support for Israel is founded firmly on the financial support the group garners. She later suggested some lawmakers exhibit dual loyalty when it comes to Israel.
Her remarks drew bipartisan criticism and a rebuke from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Omar ended up apologising for her comments.
So, what does AIPAC do?
AIPAC is a nonprofit organisation that works to influence US policy towards Israel, it is the most powerful pro-Israel group in the country. Put simply, it lobbies members of Congress, organises trips to Israel for lawmakers and also hosts a highly publicised conference every year.
While the organisation is barred from directly donating to candidates it encourages its more than 100,000 members to do so.
AIPAC has lent strong backing to Netanyahu’s policies during his 13 years in power, although some US Jewish organisations have had reservations over Israel’s shift to the right.
Is it ‘all about the Benjamins’?
According to USA Today, the group has spent $14 million overall lobbying Congress to further its agenda - $3.8 million of which was spent in 2018.
The organisation also influences Congress through expense-paid trips to Israel, by an affiliated nonprofit that does not have to disclose its donors. These week-long excursions for members of Congress, their families and some senior staff can cost upward of $12,000 per person and seek to "educate political leaders and influencers about the importance of the US-Israel relationship through firsthand experiences".
That being said, there are obvious ethnic ties to AIPAC.
“There are, pretty obviously, major questions of ethnic and religious identity in play — not just among American Jews but also with the incredible influence of Christian Zionism in American politics,” wrote Matthew Yglesias for Vox.
How did the lobby group start?
The roots of AIPAC’s inception are actually pretty dark.
In 1952, reports surfaced of Israeli army troops committing a massacre in the Palestinian village of Qibya, killing at least 60 people in response to the murder of a young Jewish woman and her two children.
The backlash against Israel was fierce and chipped away at America’s image of Israel at the time.
“Aware Israel’s reputation in the United States had been tarnished, American Jewish supporters of Israel scrambled to mount a damage-control effort in late 1953 and early 1954,” wrote Doug Rossinow for the Washington Post.
“But it was clear that a firmer, more nimble, ongoing structure of advocacy for Israel was necessary to better meet such challenges,” he continued.
And thus AIPAC - at the time AZCPA - was formed. It was a group that sought to infuse Israel’s interests in American foreign policy but in the decades since has served as a net to cushion potential opposition to Israel’s increasing aggression towards Palestinians.
Today, AIPAC's conference counts top-shelf Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority leader Chuck Schumer, among its ranks.
What else has it done?
Remember US President Donald Trump’s decision last year to shift the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem? AIPAC helped push that.
The organisation, along with Citizens For A Nuclear Free Iran, also reportedly spent $20 million in 2015 in an attempt to get the former US president Barack Obama’s administration to abandon the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Two years later, Trump reversed the deal.
AIPAC is widely credited with helping to ensure that Israel remains a top recipient of US foreign aid and is accustomed to seeing most congressional measures it favours pass almost unopposed.
In the summer of 2014, it helped to push through a $225 million funding increase for Israel’s Iron Dome defence system to protect against Hamas cross-border rocket fire in the Gaza war.