The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) launched “an odious attack” against the group’s upcoming conference after Sanders said he wouldn’t attend the event.
“Senator Sanders has never attended our conference and that is evident from his outrageous comment,” AIPAC, which says it is America’s pro-Israel lobby, said in a statement on Feb. 23.
The annual conference features more than 18,000 Americans from a wide variety of backgrounds and includes both Senate and House Democratic speakers.
“By engaging in such an odious attack on this mainstream, bipartisan American political event, Senator Sanders is insulting his very own colleagues and the millions of Americans who stand with Israel. Truly shameful,” AIPAC said.
The statement was in response to Sanders’s announcement over the weekend that he wouldn’t attend AIPAC’s conference, which is being held March 1-2 in Washington.
Sanders wrote on Twitter: “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.”
“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, 78, who is Jewish and has been a federal lawmaker for decades, has never attended the AIPAC conference but did offer to speak at the conference via video in 2016.
Sanders cited a busy campaign schedule as the reason he couldn’t speak at the conference in person. His offer to speak via video was reportedly rejected by AIPAC.
AIPAC later shared dozens of social media posts praising its annual event, some of which attacked Sanders.
In one, New York Rabbi Jason Nevarez wrote: “Unlike Bernie Sanders, I will be @AIPAC Policy Conf. I am a proud Jew and progressive Zionist who believes in a safe and secure Israel alongside a future Palestinian State. We need to show up and be a part of the discussion. Each voice matters.”
International human rights lawyer Arsen Ostrovsky wrote: “Having attended @AIPAC many times, I can unequivocally say @SenSanders could not be further from truth. AIPAC is unabashedly pro-Israel. But also support Palestinian rights & 2 SS. They have people from Right to Left and in between. It is about dialogue & engagement!”
Scheduled speakers at the AIPAC conference include Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.).
Last week, AIPAC distanced itself from a political action committee that ran ads against Sanders. The Intercept website accused AIPAC of helping the committee, but AIPAC said in a statement that it “is not and has not been involved in the ad campaigns of any political action committee.”
“The accusation that AIPAC is providing benefits to members for donating to fund these political ads or this political action committee is completely false and has no basis in fact,” it stated.
Sanders has been criticized for some of his surrogates’ positions on Israel, including Linda Sarsour, an activist who calls for the elimination of Israel as a state, and Amer Zahr, a law professor who supports the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement against Israel.
Sanders has said he supports Israel, writing in Jewish Currents last year that “it is very important for everyone, but particularly for progressives, to acknowledge the enormous achievement of establishing a democratic homeland for the Jewish people after centuries of displacement and persecution.
“It is true that some criticism of Israel can cross the line into anti-Semitism, especially when it denies the right of self-determination to Jews, or when it plays into conspiracy theories about outsized Jewish power. I will always call out anti-Semitism when I see it,” he said.