Bernie vs AIPAC: As Sanders Surges, pro-Israel Democrats Scramble for Backup Plan
For about a minute last week, it seemed like the traditionally pro-Israel moderates in the Democratic Party were coming to terms with the fact that their least favorite candidate, Senator Bernie Sanders, had all but locked down their party’s presidential nomination.
They appeared to be ceasing their attacks on Sanders in the name of party unity, and because alienating the presumptive nominee – who would be the first Jewish nominee by a major party in U.S. history – wasn’t a wise move.
– Haaretz Weekly Ep. 64
Bernie, Bibi and the brutal occupation: Listen to Gideon LevyHaaretz Weekly Ep. 64
But the cease-fire proved too fragile to hold.
Signs of a truce came late last week as caucus polls in Nevada anticipated the sweeping Sanders victory over the rest of the Democratic field. News broke that Mark Mellman, who heads the lobbying group Democratic Majority for Israel, told a gathering in New York that his organization was taking a step back from presidential politics. “We don’t have plans to be further involved in the presidential race – against Sanders or anyone else, for that matter,” he said.
The audience awaiting the arrival of Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders during a campaign rally in San Antonio, Texas, February 22, 2020. AFP
Mellman told a panel at a Manhattan community center that his group would focus its efforts instead on congressional races – both in primaries where “there are pro-Israel champions running against anti-Israel challengers,” and where pro-Israel Democrats were running against Republicans.
Taken at face value, Mellman’s words pointed to a radical change in strategy. His Democratic Majority for Israel group had just spent over $1 million in negative ads in Iowa and Nevada casting doubt on Sanders’ electability and, controversially, invoking the senator’s heart attack last fall to suggest he was unfit to be president.
Mellman was personally vocal, sounding the alarm that a Sanders nomination spelled a “Democratic disaster.” Sanders was, he wrote in a fundraising email on the eve of the Iowa caucus, the candidate “we believe is least capable of winning in November and most likely to adopt a hostile attitude toward Israel.”