Bernie Sanders: AIPAC provides a platform for leaders who express bigotry

The senator from Vermont has said that he will not be attending this year's conference.

Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders speaks an outdoor campaign rally in Austin, Texas, U.S., February 23, 2020. (photo credit: REUTERS/MIKE SEGAR)
Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders speaks an outdoor campaign rally in Austin, Texas, U.S., February 23, 2020.
(photo credit: REUTERS/MIKE SEGAR)
Democratic presidential nominee hopeful Bernie Sanders announced on Sunday via Twitter that he will not be attending the conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), claiming that the organization gives a platform “for leaders who express bigotry.” AIPAC said his comments were “truly shameful.”
It was not clear from the announcement which leaders the democratic senator from Vermont was referring to. The annual conference will take place March 1- 3 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington.
Sanders went on to pledge that, if elected president, he would do “everything possible” to achieve peace between the Palestinians and Israelis in a manner which supports the rights of both parties.
In a statement, AIPAC said: “Senator Sanders has never attended our conference and that is evident from his outrageous comment. In fact, many of his own Senate and House Democratic colleagues and leaders speak from our platform to the over 18,000 Americans from widely diverse backgrounds - Democrats, Republicans, Jews, Christians, African Americans, Hispanic Americans, progressives, veterans, students, members of the LGBTQ+ community-who participate in the conference to proclaim their support for the US-Israel relationship.
“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. Truly shameful.”
Jason Greenblatt, a former Middle East envoy with the Trump administration, said in a tweet that Sanders’s statement was “outrageous,” “shocking,” and “wrong on so many levels.”
The Senator’s words “show a total disregard for Israel & complete lack of understanding of the conflict & the very serious security challenges Israel faces,” he said, adding: “@BernieSanders & staff should attend @aipac conf not to speak but to listen / learn!”
Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles was also critical, tweeting: “I’ve attended AIPAC more than 10 times. Every time Palestinian rights were mentioned people applauded. There are a range of views presented, left, right and center. This dismissal is unwarranted and unworthy.”
However, he drew support from Democratic Representative Ilhan Omar, who called on others to follow his example, tweeting: “Thank you @BernieSanders for standing up for Palestinian human rights. All candidates should follow Bernie’s example and #SkipAIPAC!”
Fellow candidate Elizabeth Warren has already signaled her intention not to attend the conference.
Warren was quizzed by a woman attending a meeting in New Hampshire who asked the senator: “I’m an American Jew and I’m terrified by the unholy alliance that AIPAC is forming with Islamapohobes and antisemites and white nationalists and no Democrat should legitimize that kind of bigotry by attending their annual policy conference. And I’m really grateful that you skipped the AIPAC conference last year, and so my question is if you’ll join me in committing to skip the AIPAC conference this March.”
Warren replied: “Yeah.”
Former vice president Joe Biden, on the other hand, has indicated that he will be attending, tweeting: “I’m there to convince. Convince them to change their position.”
Sanders strengthened his bid to become the Democratic nominee over the weekend with a decisive victory in the Nevada caucus, winning 47.5% of the county convention delegates with 72% of the precincts reported. His closest rival, former vice-president Joe Biden, was pushed into a distant second place with 20.8% of the vote.
“First we won the popular vote in Iowa. Then we won the New Hampshire primary. And now we have won the Nevada caucus,” the senator tweeted, with links encouraging people to donate to his campaign and to support him in the next round of voting.
Sanders has repeatedly leveled charges of racism at Israel’s government, and at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
In June 2019, he defined himself as “100% pro-Israel,” but added: “the goal is to try to unite people and not just support one country, which is now run by a right-wing, dare I say, racist government.”
In October he repeated the charge, saying: “I am very proud to be Jewish and look forward to being the first Jewish president.... I believe absolutely not only in the right of Israel to exist but the right to exist in peace and security. That’s not a question. But what I also believe is the Palestinian people have a right to live in peace and security as well. It is not antisemitism to say that [Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s] government has been racist.”
And again in December, he said: “It’s not just being pro-Israel. We must be pro-Palestinian, as well... Right now, Israel is under the leadership of Netanyahu, who has recently been indicted for bribery, who in my view, is a racist.”
Most recently, during a CNN town hall debate in Las Vegas last week, the senator said: “To be for the Israeli people and to be for peace in the Middle East does not mean that we have to support right-wing, racist governments that currently exist in Israel.”