The pro-Israel lobby group meeting is a regular stop on the campaign trail, but this year frontrunner candidate Sanders is skipping out.
Bernie Sanders, a Jewish American and frontrunner for the Democratic party’s presidential nomination race for the 2020 elections, will skip the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) meeting scheduled next week.
“I remain concerned about the platform AIPAC provides for leaders who express bigotry and oppose basic Palestinian rights. For that reason I will not attend their conference,” Sanders said.
AIPAC, an American Zionist political group, which aggressively lobbies on behalf Israel, has been accused of utilising Israeli right-wing talking points without any consideration for Palestinian rights or dissenting voices.
“The Israeli people have the right to live in peace and security. So do the Palestinian people,” asserted Sanders, whose Polish Jewish relatives were killed during the Holocaust under Nazi occupation in World War II.
Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, has criticised Israeli actions in the past and also refused to attend last year’s AIPAC meeting.
Last year, he was not alone.
In 2019, other influential Democrats had also chosen not to attend the meeting, which has increasingly become a gathering of right-wing figures dominated by Trump allies like Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Among them, there were 12 Democratic hopefuls for the presidential nomination: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Beto O’Rourke, Julián Castro, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper, former congressman John Delaney of Maryland and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii).
This year, Sanders will also be not alone in his refusal to attend the meeting. Warren, a former ally of Sanders, who is still in the race among top four candidates, also says that she will not be attending the gathering.
The Israeli-American group went on the defensive in the face of public rebuke as criticism mounted against the committee's blind defence for Israeli policies.
“By engaging in such an odious attack on this mainstream, bipartisan American political event, Senator Sanders is insulting his very own colleagues and the millions of Americans who stand with Israel,” said an AIPAC statement.
AIPAC has slowly eroded its so-called “bipartisan” label as more progressive Democrats protest the group’s stances, helping J Street, another Jewish American organisation with leftist credentials to rise at the expense of the hawkish group, moving to garner more mainstream Jewish support.
In 2015, then-US President Barack Obama also criticised AIPAC’s opposition to his landmark nuclear deal with Iran, criticising the lobby group for its hawkishness.
AIPAC was formed by American Zionists in the 1950s with a stated purpose to lobby the Congress of the United States on issues and legislation related to Israel.
In 1953, the trigger to establish the group came in the form of the aftermath of an Israeli massacre in the West Bank, when the Israeli military waged an attack into the then-Jordan-controlled West Bank, massacring more than 60 civilians in the Palestinian village of Qibya, in a retaliation for the killing of a Jewish woman and her two children in Israel in the October.
After the massacre, Israel was harshly criticised across the world and even Washington took the exceptional measure of cutting aid to the Zionist state, creating panic in American Zionist ranks.
Isaiah L Kenen, one of the most fervent supporters of Israel in Washington, who had also previously served in the Israeli foreign ministry, and his backers thought that they urgently needed a group to back up Tel Aviv, founding the American Zionist Committee for Public Affairs (AZCPA) in 1954.
It was later renamed AIPAC in 1959.
The group is known for its uncompromising support of Israel even at the expense of US interests.