Washington – At least seven top Democratic and presidential candidates running in the 2020 election will not attend next week’s American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) annual policy conference.
The conference by the United States-based lobbying group, which advocates pro-Israel policies, tends to lead both Republicans and Democrats competing over speaker spots. But this year, Democrats have decided to shun the entire three-day event after growing pressure calling politicians to boycott the conference.
The Democrats who have so far said they would not attend include, Pete Buttigieg, Julian Castro, Kamala Harris, Jay Inslee, Beto O’Rourke, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, liberal advocacy group MoveOn told Al Jazeera. It is not clear if any of the politicians had planned.
A survey, published by MoveOn on Wednesday, found that 74 percent of its members agreed that “any progressive vying to be the Democratic nominee for president should skip the AIPAC conference”.
Iram Ali, director of political action at MoveOn, said the change of heart was not sudden. She said it follows years of changing conversation about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and a shifting tide to how progressives view AIPAC.
“AIPAC clearly is a partisan lobbying group that has undermined diplomatic efforts and progressives want no part in it,” Ali told Al Jazeera. “I think this means that AIPAC stances and policies are coming to the forefront. They can no longer pretend to be a bipartisan group,” she added.
As well as strongly opposing the nuclear deal former President Barack Obama struck with Iran, AIPAC has also failed to condemn anti-semitic statements made by Republicans and Islamophobia, she said, adding that Congress freshmen have shown a willingness to take a different stance on the lobby group.
Sanders’s policy director Josh Orton confirmed to local media that Sanders planned to skip the conference.
“He’s concerned about the platform AIPAC is providing for leaders who have expressed bigotry and oppose a two-state solution,” he said.
According to the Associated Press news agency, Gillibrand’s senior adviser, Glen Caplin, said, “Senator Gillibrand was not planning to speak at the policy conference and will not be attending. As she does every year, she will meet separately with her New York constituents.”
The AP also reported that presidential candidate John Delaney would not attend due to a scheduling conflict. His aide told the news agency that the former congressman was “disappointed” to miss the conference.
Ilhan Omar, one of the first two Muslim congresswomen in US history, was under fire for weeks earlier this year over what was labelled as anti-Semitic rhetoric, which led to an offshoot conversation of AIPAC’s influence in Washington.
In support of Omar, Sanders, who is Jewish, said anti-Semitism should not be equated with legitimate criticism of the right-wing government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Warren warned that “branding criticism of Israel as automatically anti-Semitic has a chilling effect on our public discourse and makes it harder to achieve a peaceful solution between Israelis and Palestinians”. Harris also expressed concern over the condemnation Omar had received and called for a two-state solution to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, said Omar was not the reason for the Democrats pulling out of the event. He said that the decisions by some to not attend were a result of a “change in the Democratic Party, period”.
“I am thankful – never in my lifetime did we imagine or think people would be seeing AIPAC [this way],” he told Al Jazeera. He said a change in the polling demographics shows that people are moving decidedly away from policies put forward by the Israeli government.
“We have [US President Donald] Trump and [Benjamin] Netanyahu to thank for this,” he said, adding that the duo were exhibiting the worse form of macho male behaviour. “They are what is changing in the constituency in the Democratic Party.”
He added that both this boycott and the Omar controversy were symptoms of what is taking place in the larger political landscape in the country.
In response this morning to the event boycotts, Trump said, “Democrats have very much proven to be anti-Israel” and “frankly I think they are anti-Jewish”.
Among those scheduled to speak next week at the AIPAC conference are Netanyahu, Vice President Mike Pence, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Mitch McConnell.
AIPAC was not immediately available for comments.