Democratic 2020 presidential primary frontrunner Sen. Bernie Sanders earned the praise of progressives after announcing on Sunday he would not attend the annual AIPAC conference due to his concerns over the group's willingness to endorse the views of bigots and its dismissal of the human rights of Palestinians.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), also a candidate for president, announced on February 6 she would not go to the AIPAC conference.
"The Israeli people have the right to live in peace and security," Sanders said Sunday. "So do the Palestinian people. 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."
The Israeli people have the right to live in peace and security. So do the Palestinian people. 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. 1/2
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) February 23, 2020
"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 added.
The group hit back, issuing a statement attacking the Vermont senator and accusing him of ignorance about the organization's purpose.
"Sen. Sanders has never attended our conference and that is evident from his outrageous comment," the group said, adding, "By engaging in such an odious attack on this mainstream, bipartisan American political event, Sen. Sanders is insulting his very own colleagues and the millions of Americans who stand with Israel."
Axios reporter Jonathan Swan noted that the comments were "the strongest statement AIPAC has ever made against a top presidential candidate."
AIPAC has made no bones over the years of its distaste for Sanders, who declined to attend the conference in person in 2016 over similar concerns about the group's treatment of the Palestinians and its connections to hate groups.
A group loosely affiliated with AIPAC, the Democratic Majority for Israel, ran attack ads against the senator in Iowa and Nevada in January and February.
"The wall of fear protecting AIPAC is cracking and crumbling due to the grass growing down below," said Electronic Intifada co-founder Ali Abunimah.
Abunimah's remarks were echoed by Intercept journalist Glenn Greenwald, who pointed out that both Warren and Sanders rejecting the conference spoke to a broader problem of legitimacy for the organization.
"That Sanders has the political courage to reject an organization devoted to an apartheid state is yet another positive," said Greenwald. "But AIPAC doesn't mention that Sen. Warren also refused to attend because AIPAC, like Israel, is becoming a far-right rogue outcast.
That Sanders has the political courage to reject an organization devoted to an apartheid state is yet another positive.
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) February 24, 2020
"You can support the Palestinian and Israeli people without supporting leaders or organizations that oppose the freedom and liberation of the Palestinian people," said activist and Sanders supporter Linda Sarsour.
Progressive Jewish advocacy group IfNotNow called on the rest of the Democratic field to follow Sanders and Warren's example.
"Bernie's progressive agenda, which is strongly motivated by the Jewish tradition of social justice, has no room in it for the unholy alliance of Islamophobes, antisemites, and white nationalists that AIPAC has worked with in recent years," said IfNotNow co-founder Dani Moscovitch. "We renew our call on every single Democratic candidate to follow the lead of Bernie and Elizabeth Warren and Skip AIPAC and embrace the movement fighting for freedom and dignity."
Bernie Sanders’ commitment to #SkipAIPAC shows growing momentum in the campaign to ensure that the Democratic Party rejects the bigotry that we will see on AIPAC’s stage next week.
— IfNotNow (@IfNotNowOrg) February 23, 2020
The Vermont senator's remarks were welcomed by writer Mairav Zonszein.
"For me and many other Israeli and American Jews on the left, Sanders is literally a hero for saying fuck you to AIPAC," said Zonsein.