Bernie Sanders Made the Right Decision to Skip ‘Pro-Israel’ AIPIC Conference

Rabbis don’t want Trump giving a speech there. Bernie Sanders, who is Jewish, could. But he won’t. He’ll be campaigning in the West instead. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, along with Ted Cruz, John Kasich and others, is a featured as a speaker at AIPIC this week.

In fact, as The Washington Post points out, Sanders will be the only presidential hopeful to not attend AIPIC. Donald Trump is due to speak tonight, trying to explain how he can be pro-Israel while championing an antisemitic movement.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPIC, represents the pro-Israel lobby in the United States, saying, “The mission of AIPAC is to strengthen, protect and promote the U.S.-Israel relationship in ways that enhance the security of the United States and Israel.” It regularly invites the presidential candidates to the conference. Salon’s Ben Norton called Sanders’ decision a “bold move.”

In a letter to Robert Cohen, President of AIPIC, Sanders explained why he would not be attending:

As I mentioned, I would very much have enjoyed speaking at the AIPAC conference. Obviously, issues impacting Israel and the Middle East are of the utmost importance to me, to our country and to the world.
Unfortunately, I am going to be traveling throughout the West and the campaign schedule that we have prevents me from attending.
Since AIPAC has chosen not to permit candidates to address the conference remotely, 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. We should be able to get that speech to you on Monday. Any help that you could give us in getting those remarks out to your members would be much appreciated.
Thanks very much. Hope the conference goes well.

Rob Barkan at the Observer had a few ideas of his own about Sanders’ absence, writing that “Progressives shouldn’t give Bernie Sanders too much credit for skipping a major pro-Israel conference tomorrow. He offered to speak on video and was turned down.”

According to Barkan,

He is now, as much as he is a Democratic candidate, the leader of the progressive movement in America, and anyone in that position can’t be unequivocally pro-Israel. Many of the grassroots progressives powering Mr. Sanders’ campaign against Hillary Clinton see Israel as an imperialistic hegemon waging asymmetrical warfare against the Palestinians; the Democratic Party that views Israel as the shining beacon of democracy in the Middle East has little in common with Mr. Sanders’ most ardent fans.

That’s not strictly true. It is not “unequivocally pro-Israel” that is the issue, but rather an “Israel first” stance: giving control of American foreign policy to Israel, a gambit embraced by hawks in both countries. What conservatives don’t understand is that Democrats can be pro-Israel. They just can’t put Israel above the United States.

In fact, as has been reported, “foreign policy writer Robert Naiman wrote an open letter to Sanders encouraging him to speak at AIPAC — urging him to be a “truth-teller” to the group. Naiman is critical of the group’s hard-line pro-Israel stance.” There is nothing inherently anti-progressive about addressing a pro-Israel lobby.

Sanders is facing an uphill battle against Hillary Clinton and the Utah Democratic caucuses are Tuesday, the last day of AIPIC. He says he will be giving a major foreign policy address on Monday. He was in Vancouver, and then Seattle on Sunday, drawing big crowds in both places and he will be appearing in San Diego on Tuesday.

When Barkan writes that “His [Sanders’] campaign has provided no specific reason for snubbing AIPAC” it is important to note that Sanders did in fact explain his absence (he will be campaigning instead) and pointed out that it is AIPIC that will not let him appear remotely, and that Barkan insists on portraying his non-appearance as a “snub.” Sanders can always shrug and say, “I offered to appear remotely. They could have said yes.”

Bernie Sanders made the correct call when he decided not to attend AIPIC. The people voting for him are not Israelis but Americans. Netanyahu fans among American voters are unlikely to vote for Sanders in any case, and anyone who thinks Israel should control America’s foreign policy are unlikely to be persuaded by anything Sanders says.

Republicans will make the most of Sanders’ non-appearance, but Trump is the guy with the real problem, proving to be the antithesis of the conservative position equating opposition to Israeli policies with antisemitism by proving that loving Israel does not equate with loving Jews.

In fact, Max Blumenthal, who is the son of former Clinton adviser Sydney Blumenthal and who happens to be pro-Palestinian, started up a petition that garnered 5,000 signatures urging Sanders not to speak at AIPIC. It is unknown if Sanders was persuaded by Blumenthal’s position (his petition can be seen here), but his is the right choice regardless.

So the Republicans will make hay, yes. Let them. They already claim Sanders is a communist, which is about the worst insult you can hurl in American politics. Democratic voters, on the other hand, will not be persuaded.

This election is not about Israel but about the United States, and a second American Revolution can be won in California with its 55 electoral votes, but not in Galilee, which gets 0. In the end, pundits will be hard-pressed to prove Clinton will gain more traction with a speech at AIPIC than Sanders will with a speech in San Diego.