Bernie Sanders will be the only 2016 presidential candidate not to address the annual conference of the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which starts Sunday in Washington, D.C..
Sanders sent a letter Friday to AIPAC President Robert Cohen saying that "the campaign schedule that we have prevents me from attending," and, "the best that I can do is to send you a copy of the remarks that I would have given if I was able to attend." The campaign posted the letter (pdf) in full.
All the presidential candidates were invited, and
Hillary Clinton was the first to confirm, with Donald Trump following closely behind her. Clinton has made her ardent support for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a cornerstone of her campaign – and vowed in a letter to mega-donor media mogul Haim Saban to crush the grassroots BDS movement calling for the boycott, divestment and sanctioning of Israel.
California-based human rights group Jewish Voice for Peace also stated Friday:
Many of the most alarming statements and policy proposals Donald Trump has made are already reality in Israel, and supported by AIPAC. Israel already refuses to open its doors to Syrian refugees (many of whom are of Palestinian origin), allows privileged immigration status for one religious group over others, is building highly militarized walls on all of its borders, and allows a demagogue leader to get away with using blatant racism to get votes.
Sanders' campaign communications director Michael Briggs said an offer to address the conference via video link was rejected, according to reporting by The Intercept. The news outlet also notes that AIPAC did make that allowance for Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich during the 2012 presidential campaign.
AIPAC has been met with repeated fierce criticisms over its stances, including its efforts to derail U.S. diplomatic efforts with Iran, its push for military intervention in Syria, and its support for Israeli invasions and siege of Gaza.
A change.org petition started by journalist Max Blumenthal had urged Sanders to reject the conference fully. It states:
As the main arm of the pro-Israel lobby in the United States, AIPAC has sworn to promote the racist, militaristic, and anti-democratic policies of the most right-wing government in Israel's history. Its conference this year will feature Islamophobes, anti-immigrant activists, and religious extremists. With his promise to seek a "level playing field" on Israel-Palestine, Bernie does not belong on the same stage as these figures.
And that promise, Murtaza Hussain wrote at The Intercept, "makes him an outlier in the presidential race."
"Regardless of any spin he's offering," Blumenthal told Salon, "I think Sanders recognized that sharing a stage with bigots at AIPAC and apartheid lobbyists would be anathema to his hardcore base of support."