Bernie Sanders will not attend Aipac conference, accusing it of hosting 'leaders who express bigotry'

The left-wing Vermont senator accused the lobby group of hosting 'leaders who express bigotry and oppose basic Palestinian rights'


Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders hit out at the pro-Israel organisation the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) on Sunday as he confirmed that he would not be attending their annual conference.

Mr Sanders, the long-time Senator for Vermont, tweeted that he was not attending because he was “concerned about the platform Aipac provides for leaders who express bigotry and oppose basic Palestinian rights”.

It is not clear to whom Senator Sanders was referring, although his tweets have been interpreted as allusions to President Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, both of whom have previously used Aipac’s annual conference for important policy speeches.

The Senator continued saying, “As President, I will support the rights of both Israelis and Palestinians to do everything possible to bring peace and security to the region”.

Senator Sanders, who is Jewish and previously worked on a kibbutz in Israel, cemented his place as the front-runner in the Democratic race to take on Donald Trump in November by claiming a decisive victory in Saturday’s Nevada caucuses. He would be the first major Jewish presidential candidate.

Aipac hit back in a statement on  Monday, calling Sanders’ allegations “outrageous” and “an odious attack” and accused him of “insulting his very own colleagues and millions of Americans who stand with Israel. Truly shameful.”  

Aipac’s conferences are traditionally important events in presidential election years, with the organisation inviting all party candidates to set out their pitch to pro-Israel Jewish voters and outline a Middle East foreign policy programme to thousands of attendees.

This year’s conference, which formally kicks off in Washington on March 1, comes immediately before Super Tuesday, when up to one third of the delegates that will decide who wins the Democratic nomination will be up for grabs in 14 states.

Senator Sanders’ refusal to attend follows on from his non-appearance during his previous presidential campaign in 2016 and establishes him as the second Democratic candidate to have declined an invitation, after fellow Senator Elizabeth Warren stated earlier this February that she would not attend. No other candidates have so far confirmed their attendance.

The Vermont Senator has previously referred to his time living on a kibbutz in the 1960s as underlining his support for Israel’s security, stating, “I believe absolutely not only in the right of Israel to exist but the right to exist in peace and security. That’s not a question.”

The Senator has been the most willing to criticise Israel on the Democratic slate. He told CNN in 2019: “I am not anti-Israel, but the fact of the matter is Netanyahu is a right-wing politician who I think is treating the Palestinian people extremely unfairly.” He has previously referred to Netanyahu’s Likud-led government as “racist.”

Senator Sanders has states that he would consider cutting or conditioning American aid to Israel in an effort to encourage Israel to curb settlement construction in the West Bank, ease conditions on Gaza  and enter peace talks with the Palestinians.

Pro-peace interest groups have been lobbying Democratic candidates not to attend the Aipac conference, which is traditionally regarded as a more conservative and hawkish lobby group.

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