At AIPAC Conference, an Absent Sanders Takes Center Stage

WASHINGTON – On the first day of the AIPAC Policy Conference on Sunday, the politicians who spoke – both American and Israeli – voiced clear support for the pro-Israel lobby while criticizing and distancing themselves from a presidential hopeful who refused to participate: Democratic Senator Bernie Sanders.

– Haaretz Weekly Ep. 66

On Election Eve, Bibi is gunning for his only real rivalHaaretz Weekly Ep. 66

Last week, Sanders, who currently leads the delegate count in the Democratic presidential primary, announced he would not speak at AIPAC’s annual gathering in Washington because the organization gives a platform to leaders “who express bigotry and oppose basic Palestinian rights.” He also referred to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a “reactionary racist” in last week’s Democratic debate.

On Sunday, Sanders’ leading rival for the Democratic nomination, former Vice President Joe Biden, sent a video message to AIPAC in which he said he would “never boycott” the organization. “I’ve been speaking at your conference for a long time,” Biden said, adding that he has heard support for Israel from across the political spectrum at AIPAC. “I will always tell you what I believe, whether we agree or disagree,” he said.

Biden has a decades-long relationship with AIPAC and has spoken at many of the organization’s events over the years. He was a regular speaker at AIPAC’ conferences in the second term of the Obama presidency.

Biden added that it was important to promote peace between Israel and the Palestinians – “real peace, not an empty political stunt,” a jab at the Middle East peace plan the Trump administration released in January. It is just as important, he said, to find a way to fulfill the “legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people” for an independent state. Netanyahu’s announcement of settlement expansion and annexation plans will “choke any hope for peace,” Biden warned, adding that such moves are “taking Israel further from its democratic values and undermining support for Israel in the United States, especially among young people. That’s dangerous.”

Biden also said he was proud of the military aid Israel received from the Obama administration, including the “life-saving” Iron Dome missile defense system. He added that “we can’t let Israel become another issue that divides Democrats and Republicans.” Biden recorded his message from South Carolina, where he was campaigning this weekend ahead of the state’s primary, which he won by a landslide.

Senator Amy Klobuchar also sent a video message to the conference from the campaign trail. (The Democratic candidate subsequently dropped out of the race on Monday.) She too emphasized her support for Israel’s security and her strong relationship with AIPAC, while speaking in favor of a two-state solution “that allows Israelis and Palestinians to live side by side in peace and security.” Klobuchar discussed the importance of “ensuring that support for Israel remains bipartisan.” Both Klobuchar and Biden missed the conference on Sunday because they were campaigning in states that will vote in the Super Tuesday primaries.