Given repeated opportunities to back away from his attacks on AIPAC, Sen. Bernie Sanders refused to do so.
The Vermont Socialist hadn’t merely declined an invitation to speak at the pro-Israel lobby’s annual policy conference, a Washington extravaganza in which leading members of both major parties have always participated. He damned the event to which up to 18,000 activists and donors flock as an illegitimate enterprise that provided a platform for “bigotry” and denial of “Palestinian rights.”
And, true to the way he has conducted himself during his four decades in politics, Sanders wasn’t about to admit he had been deeply unfair to the group. Instead, the man who, if elected, would be the first Jewish president, doubled down on the critique while claiming he was an advocate for both Israelis and Palestinians, particularly those trapped in Gaza.
Sanders’ barb about “bigotry” wasn’t merely gratuitous and hypocritical (especially since he has spoken at a conference of the Islamic Society of North America, a group that includes those who don’t merely deny Jewish rights but also advocate attacks on both Jews and gays). It was calculated to signal that he remains an outsider in Washington and indicative of his support for the sort of intersectional politics that conflates the struggle for civil rights in the United States to the Palestinian war on Israel that the party’s left-wing base supports.
So when Sanders was asked on the Sunday morning national talk shows if there was “political cost in taking on the pro-Israel lobby,” it was exactly the sort of confrontation that he not unreasonably believes bolsters his appeal. Antagonism toward Israel plays well on the left and not on the right. But this juxtaposition is akin to the same resentment felt by Trump voters about the Washington “swamp,” illustrating the common ground that political observers see between the president and his left wing challenger.
Nor did the resulting brickbats hurled at Sanders at the AIPAC conference — whether in veiled references from the lobby’s leaders and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or the open contempt expressed for him by Israel’s UN Ambassador Danny Danon — do him any harm.
But if Sanders thinks that he can put this behind him after some expected primary wins on Super Tuesday, he is mistaken. As Sanders battles for the nomination, the wrath of that Washington establishment and Democratic supporters of AIPAC may come back to bite him.