Bernie Sanders has announced that he will not attend the Washington conference of the pro-Israel lobby group, AIPAC. In a letter he sent Friday afternoon to Robert Cohen, President of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Sanders cited conflicting campaign commitments, saying he was, “going to be travelling throughout the West”.
Sanders promised to provide a copy of the speech he would have given to the 18,000 participants of the conference. Sanders noted that AIPAC no longer offers candidates the option of addressing the conference remotely or by satellite, as they have done in the past. In 2012, Republican candidates Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich addressed the conference via satellite.
“We invited the Senator and we gave him the same opportunity to speak as the other candidates,” an AIPAC official told JTA in an email. “We understand that he very much wanted to come but could not get back from West Coast to do it. We did change our policy and no candidate was offered/permitted the opportunity to address the conference remotely this year.”
Sanders has been under pressure from his supporters to skip the pro-Israel conference. Two petitions being distributed by change.org and diy.rootsaction.org, both initiated by anti-Israel activist Max Blumenthal, have garnered over 18,000 signatures. The petitions state:
“AIPAC has sworn to promote the racist, militaristic, and anti-democratic policies of the most right-wing government in Israel’s history. Its conference this year will feature Islamophobes, anti-immigrant activists,and religious extremists. With his promise to seek a “level playing field” on Israel-Palestine, Bernie does not belong on the same stage as these figures.”
Max Blumenthal is the son of Sidney Blumenthal, a long time advisor of Hillary Clinton known for extremely anti-Israel views. The Blumenthals, junior and senior, have both been accused of being anti-Semitic.
It is ironic that Sanders, the first Jew to win a presidential primary, would skip the conference of the powerful Jewish lobby group. In the past, Sanders was criticized by left-wing groups for supporting Israel’s right to exist and for criticizing Hamas. He has recently changed his rhetoric when addressing the subject, most notably while recently campaigning in Michigan which has a large Muslim population. Sanders won the primary in that state.
Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be addressing the conference via satellite.
The AIPAC conference is also the focus of controversy as several Jewish groups are threatening to boycott it for allowing Donald Trump, the Republican front-runner, to speak.
Source: Israel in the News