Leading US presidential candidate Bernie Sanders announced on Sunday that he will not attend the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual conference next week because it provides a platform for “leaders who express bigotry and oppose basic Palestinian rights.”
What AIPAC does do is provide a bipartisan, diverse platform for those who believe that a strong Israel-US relationship is critical, both for Israel and the United States.
That’s not bigotry, nor opposed to “Palestinian rights.” That’s just smart geopolitics. It’s also the reason why for years the leading political leaders from both countries – from the Left and the Right – have made it a point to attend the conference. And their very participation was the message: US support for Israel is neither Right nor Left, Democratic nor Republican, Likud nor Labor. It is bi-partisan.
But not for Sanders. For Sanders it is bigoted.
Why? Because the far Left says it is. Because the far Left says Zionism is racism, Israel is an apartheid state, and that the Jewish state protecting its citizens is a militaristic Sparta that exists only to trample the rights of the defenseless and blameless Palestinians.
And Sanders, a man who desires to be president, has neither the backbone nor integrity to stand up to the far Left – which makes up a critical part of his base – and say, “Enough!”
Sanders doesn’t have to agree with Israeli policy or like the current Israeli government (he has made it clear, in fact, that he detests both). He doesn’t even have to attend the conference. But to boycott it on the grounds that AIPAC is “bigoted” is simply ridiculous.
It is also an insult to the tens of thousands of US citizens who support AIPAC, the 18,000 people who will attend the conference, and the hundreds of people who will speak there. Do they all condone bigotry?
For Israel, United States support is critical. It is critical militarily and diplomatically. This doesn’t meant it is a one-way relationship – it is not, as Israel contributes much to the US as well. And that support is not now – nor has it ever – been a given.
That Israel for so long has enjoyed massive support on both sides of the aisle from senators and congressmen in each of the 50 states – even those with only a minuscule Jewish population – is not Israel’s natural birthright. This is not something that just falls from the heaven; rather, it takes long, hard work.
It takes educating and lobbying, and being able to mobilize the support of tens of millions of Americans to let their representatives know that by supporting Israel, they are doing what the majority of their constituents want them to do.
Which is why of all the American Jewish organizations, AIPAC is the one most critical for Israel’s security and well-being. Why? Because AIPAC ensures political support for Israel in Washington and across the US.
And this is why Sanders’ attack is so dangerous. Not only does he not want to speak at the organization’s conference (his prerogative), but the words he chose to explain his absence shows that he also wants to undermine and delegitimize the organization itself. Accusing AIPAC of bigotry is intended to weaken AIPAC – and a weakened AIPAC is bad for the Israel-US alliance.
In today’s hyper-partisan climate in America, maintaining bipartisanship is a difficult – if not impossible task. AIPAC has critics both on the Left – who think it is way too close with the current governments in Washington and Jerusalem – and on the Right, who feel it was not critical enough of the Obama administration.
Yet it has tried its best to stay out of these poisonous political battles and focus on the overriding goal – working for a strong US-Israel relationship.
Has it stumbled from time to time? Certainly. But for the most part it has stood admirably above the political fray, able to work with both Republican and Democratic administrations, as well as with both Democratic and Republican senators and representatives, for the betterment of the US-Israel relationship – something that serves the interests of, and which is important to, both countries.
That Sanders is trying to disturb this relationship is a shame.