Democrats continue to embrace the anti-Semitic rhetoric spewed by its most radical members and now, outside organizations are joining in, as liberal group MoveOn has called on presidential candidates to boycott AIPAC’s policy conference.
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Politico: MoveOn asks 2020 Dems to boycott AIPAC conference
Ben Schreckinger & Marc Caputo
March 20, 2019 – 1:54 PM
The mostly symbolic move deepens a progressive rift on Israel.
The liberal group MoveOn is calling on Democratic presidential candidates to skip this year’s AIPAC policy conference, citing its links to the right-wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu and charging that AIPAC has flirted with Islamophobia.
The move underscores a growing willingness on the Democratic left to criticize Israel and its staunchest Washington supporters, particularly since freshman Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) bashed supporters of Israel in terms widely condemned as anti-Semitic.
“It’s no secret that that AIPAC has worked to hinder diplomatic efforts like the Iran deal, is undermining Palestinian self-determination, and inviting figures actively involved in human rights violations to its stage,” said Iram Ali, Campaign Director at MoveOn Political Action, in a statement provided first to POLITICO. Ali said the move should “give a clear insight to 2020 candidates on where their base stands instead of prioritizing lobbying groups and policy people who rarely step outside of D.C.”
MoveOn’s move may be largely symbolic, as there is no evidence that candidates planned to attend this year’s conference, which begins on Sunday. In past political cycles, presidential candidates have tended to appear at the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference during election years rather than off years. (Hillary Clinton appeared at the 2016 conference, and both she and Barack Obama appeared at the 2008 conference.)
But it sets a new marker for Democratic 2020 hopefuls, underscoring that liberal activists are prepared to make support for the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, an ally of President Donald Trump, a major issue in the primary race.
MoveOn, a grassroots group that claims membership in the millions, is calling for the boycott after three-quarters of respondents supported the measure in an online survey of members. Before answering the survey, MoveOn members were presented with a series of statements highlighting AIPAC’s opposition to the Obama-era Iran nuclear deal and accusing it of pushing “anti-Muslim and anti-Arab rhetoric while giving platforms to Islamophobes.” AIPAC has come under fire for, among other things, a $60,000 payment one of its affiliates made in 2015 to the Center for Security Policy, a conservative group well-known for its inflammatory positions about Muslims and Islam.
AIPAC is bipartisan lobbying group which says its mission is “to strengthen, protect and promote the U.S.-Israel relationship in ways that enhance the security of the United States and Israel.” It has close ties with numerous senior lawmakers. The group’s annual conference typically attracts high-ranking U.S. members of Congress and administration officials, including presidents.
Omar faced a backlash, along with some cheers from the left, last month after a tweet suggesting that GOP support for Israel is driven by donations from AIPAC. (AIPAC does not donate directly to candidates but its support helps to attract donations from Jewish PACs and donors.) Driven in part by Netanyahu’s GOP-friendly stance and hard line towards the Palestinians, liberals have questioned U.S. policy towards Israel — and groups like AIPAC — with growing boldness.
But others say that the new criticism of Israel and some of its allies is straying dangerously into the realm of anti-Semitic tropes.
Matt Brooks, the executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, said the criticisms of AIPAC are both offensive and wrong because the group exists to support the democratically elected government of Israel, regardless of who is prime minister.
More broadly, Brooks said, Democrats and progressives are doing a disservice to Israel and themselves by being partisan.
“The Democrats consistently talk about having a strong bipartisan support for Israel, but they whitewash the anti-Semitic comments from Rep. Ilhan Omar and Sen. [Bernie] Sanders spokeswoman,” Brooks said. “And now they’re advising and calling on Democratic candidates not to attend AIPAC. It’s the exact opposite of bipartisanship. It’s saying they have no interest in being part of a broad pro-Israel consensus.”
A spokesman for AIPAC, Marshall Wittmann, declined to comment on MoveOn’s call or say whether any candidates had been invited.
While House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer are slated to appear at this year’s conference along with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and top Republicans, no Democratic presidential candidates are currently listed as speakers.
In addition to its Washington policy conference, AIPAC holds events around the country throughout the year that often draw presidential hopefuls and other politicians. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), attended an AIPAC dinner in Boston in May 2015, for example.
A spokeswoman for MoveOn, Anna Zuccaro, said the call for a boycott applied only to this year’s policy conference, but called it “a clear sign that momentum is shifting.”
“Candidates should be prepared for push back regarding their involvement with AIPAC,” she said.
Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of J Street, a liberal Jewish group dedicated to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, welcomed the move. “Democrats have to do some serious analysis to see whether or not appearing at AIPAC in the heat of 2020 will help them with the base,” he said.
Support for Israel has become an increasingly partisan issue in recent years, as backers of Israel’s right-wing government first split with former President Barack Obama over the Iran nuclear deal. In 2015, at the invitation of Republicans, Netanyahu gave a remarkable address to the U.S. House of Representatives, in which the foreign leader bashed Obama’s handling of the Iran nuclear deal. Lately, Netanyahu’s backers have embraced Republican President Donald Trump, who fulfilled Israel’s long-held desire that the U.S. move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Three years before that, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney shared advisors with Netanyahu as the candidate criticized Obama for not supporting Israel enough.
For Democrats, support for Israel is largely split along generational lines, with young progressives more willing to challenge the close U.S. alliance with the Jewish state. In the wake of Omar’s comments, the issue also divided the Congressional Black Caucus and some Jewish representatives earlier this month.
The only major Democratic presidential candidate of Jewish descent, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, rose to Omar’s defense and criticized Netanyahu by name, a move that pleased progressives who want to draw attention to the prime minister’s involvement in U.S. politics.
“Netanyahu,” Ben-Ami said, “single-handedly owns responsibility for turning Israel into an American political football through aligning himself and his government with the Republican Party.”