Two struggling Democratic presidential candidates, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar, were slammed Sunday afternoon for backtracking on previous vows not to attend the controversial annual convention of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, though progressive critics said the move indicated not only the growing weakness of the two candidates, but AIPAC as well.
While Buttigieg and Klobuchar appeared last week to submit to a grassroots demand from Jewish-led advocacy group IfNotNow—along with allies like Move On, Indivisible, and the Working Families Party—to skip the conference, it was reported Sunday that the two are submitting pre-recorded messages that will be shown to attendees.
In turn, what was reported widely just days ago as a "watershed moment"—one in which even centrist Democratic presidential candidates like Buttigieg and Klobuchar were seen rejecting the "bigotry that AIPAC has legitimized for decades"—is now being seen by campaigners as an unfortunate, though instructive, setback.
"We are disappointed by Amy Klobuchar's and Pete Buttigieg's decisions to cave to AIPAC's pressure, but also unsurprised, given that their campaigns have been distinguished by a stated desire to be seen as progressive alongside a demonstrated refusal to stand up to the corrupt establishment," said Dani Moscovitch, co-founder of IfNotNow, in a statement.
— Mairav Zonszein מרב זונשיין (@MairavZ) March 1, 2020
"The last-minute nature of the announcements—and the lowering of AIPAC's own standards to accept pre-recorded videos from the candidates—gives a glimpse into AIPAC's frantic scramble to save face," Moscovitch said, "and is a sign of the growing weakness of the pro-occupation establishment."
Regardless of the reversal by Buttigieg and Klobuchar, she argued that recent events have shown "AIPAC is losing the battle for the soul of the Democratic Party."
While Democratic presidential hopefuls Joe Biden and Michael Bloomberg never appeared to consider not attending (Biden was already scheduled to send a video while Bloomberg is set to appear in person), both Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have remained firm in their commitments not to further legitimize AIPAC by participating and both have spoken out against the negative role that AIPAC plays in domestic and international arenas.
It turns out that Klobuchar and Buttigieg are doing video speeches at AIPAC (just like Biden) but they made a big deal about not showing up in person a few days ago. They are both showing signs of desperation. Shame on them and more points to Warren and Sanders. https://t.co/4WrgOYAiYq
— saac Epstein (@iepstein) March 1, 2020
Asked about why he refuses to go during a Sunday morning interview on Face The Nation, Sanders said even though AIPAC has a lot of money and political power, "what we need in this country is a foreign policy that not only protects Israel, but deals with the suffering of the Palestinian people as well."
Today on Face the Nation, 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders yet again doubled down on his criticism of the Israel lobby group AIPAC and the need to support Palestinian rights. pic.twitter.com/jwOYKWPIbo
— IMEU (@theIMEU) March 1, 2020
Such comments by Sanders, now the Democratic primary frontrunner who is himself Jewish, is part of the reason that Moscovitch says the tide is turning when it comes to AIPAC's influence and the way many people in the United States feel about having a policy that is more even-handed and, in terms of the occupation of the Palestinian, more sympathetic.
"Over the last decade," she said, "progressives have finally woken up to to AIPAC's offensive platforming of anti-Muslim, anti-Palestinian bigotry and dangerous alignment with the GOP and Israeli far-right. Since AIPAC's last conference, more and more Democrats have publicly challenged their shining achievement: the blank check American taxpayers give to the Israeli government to fund its brutal occupation of the Palestinian people."
Moscovitch said her group is "proud to be part of the growing movement encouraging more and more morally courageous leaders to stop funding the occupation."