WASHINGTON – Senator Bernie Sanders, the current front-runner in the Democratic primary, announced Sunday that he won’t be attending the annual AIPAC conference next week.
He accused the group of giving a platform to “leaders who express bigotry and oppose basic rights” for the Palestinian people.
Sanders could soon become the first-ever Jewish presidential nominee of a major party and has long been a critic of the leading lobby group supporting Israel in the United States.
Sanders tweeted: “The Israeli people have the right to live in peace and security. So do the Palestinian people.” But with regards to AIPAC, which will hold its annual policy conference from March 1-3 in Washington, Sanders explained: “I remain concerned about the platform AIPAC provides for leaders who express bigotry and oppose basic Palestinian rights. For that reason I will not attend their conference.”
Sanders, who recently won the Democratic caucus in Nevada and primary in New Hampshire, added, “As president, I will support the rights of both Israelis and Palestinians and do everything possible to bring peace and security to the region.”
Sanders did, however, speak at the J Street conference last year –the largest Jewish organization challenging AIPAC from the left.
AIPAC called Sanders’ announcement “outrageous” and “shameful,” and released a statement saying the Vermont senator had “never attended our conference,” unlike many other senators and members of Congress.
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“By engaging in such an odious attack on this mainstream, bipartisan American political event, Senator Sanders is insulting his very own colleagues and the millions of Americans who stand with Israel,” the statement read.
This year’s AIPAC conference will take place on the weekend before Super Tuesday, and it’s not clear if any of the Democratic presidential candidates will attend. Senator Elizabeth Warren already said earlier this month she won’t attend. But Sanders is the first candidate to explain his decision not to attend the conference with ideological reasoning, and to directly go after AIPAC.
In 2016, Hillary Clinton spoke at AIPAC at the height of her competition against Sanders for the Democratic nomination. Donald Trump also spoke at that year’s conference, and AIPAC later apologized to the White House for Trump’s attacks on then-President Barack Obama from the conference stage.