WASHINGTON – Speaking at the pro-Israel AIPAC lobby’s policy conference in Washington on Monday, former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg criticized Sen. Bernie Sanders, one of his opponents for the Democratic Party’s nomination for president, over Sanders’ policy proposals on Israel.
In a speech a day before the Super Tuesday primaries, Bloomberg said if he is elected president, he would “never” limit military aid to Israel, in contrast with Sanders, who has advocated using the billions of dollars that Israel receives annually from the United States as “leverage” to apply pressure. Although three other Democratic presidential candidates provided video messages to the AIPAC conference, Bloomberg was the only candidate to appear in person.
The former New York mayor emphasized his support for policies that AIPAC advocates on behalf of, including increased military assistance to Israel and opposition to the BDS anti-Israel boycott movement. Bloomberg also promised that if elected president, he would promote an Israeli-Palestinian peace plan based on a two-state solution.
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In last week’s Democratic candidates’ debate in South Carolina, Sanders said he would “consider” moving the American embassy in Israel back to Tel Aviv if elected. Bloomberg opposed Sanders’ position and reiterated the stance at the AIPAC gathering, saying that the embassy should stay in Jerusalem, “where it belongs.”
Bloomberg has spent hundreds of millions of dollars so far on his presidential campaign. This week’s Super Tuesday primaries in 14 states will be the first test of the impact of that investment on the race. Bloomberg had not registered in time to compete in the primaries and caucuses that have been held so far. His speech at AIPAC gave an indication that his main strategy is to distinguish himself from Sanders and try to appeal to centrist and moderate Democrats.
Bloomberg also criticized President Donald Trump and the current administration on the issue of anti-Semitism, without directly mentioning the president by name. “Presidential leadership matters. It sets the tone,” he said in reference to the increase in the number of anti-Semitic incidents in the United States.
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Later on Monday, in his own appearance at the annual conference, Vice President Mike Pence, the Trump administration’s most senior representative at the gathering, highlighted the administration’s executive order on anti-Semitism at colleges and universities, which Trump signed in December.
Pence assailed Sanders and accused him of “openly calling Israel racist.” The vice president described Trump as “the most pro-Israeli president ever” and in reference to Sanders, said Trump “should not be replaced by someone who would be the most anti-Israel president.”
The Vermont senator, who is Jewish, describes himself as a supporter of Israel and makes mention of the fact that he volunteered on a kibbutz in the 1960s.