AIPAC snubs reveal group’s increasingly partisan nature
Want a break from the partisan gridlock of the Beltway? Want to hear major politicians from all around the globe speak in relative harmony on one subject for once? Want to be on the frontlines of American statecraft and international relations? Boy howdy, do I have a conference for you. It’s another year, so that means it’s time for another American Israel Public Affairs Committee Policy Conference, a three-day celebration of the American-Israeli alliance attended by politicians and Zionists of all stripes. At least, it used to be.
Once a rare bipartisan institution in the ever-shifting world of Congressional pressure groups, AIPAC has dropped the pretense in recent years, going from a support group for all pro-Israel politicians to a mouthpiece for Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud and the Republican Party. Unless you’re a Democrat beholden to older Jewish voters in New York or Florida, good luck getting an invite.
One figure who will be conspicuously absent from this year’s conference is Democratic candidate for president Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT), who might be the first-ever Jewish presidential nominee of a major political party. In an official Twitter announcement, Sanders wrote that “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. For that reason I will not attend their conference.” Then again, Sanders also skipped the event in 2016 when his opponent Hillary Clinton gave a keynote address, so that’s just business as usual, right? Maybe, but AIPAC’s longtime ally Democratic Majority for Israel has launched a full-blown anti-Sanders offensive, running attack ads against the Vermont Senator in Nevada and the delegate-rich states ready to vote on Super Tuesday.
Perhaps this could be dismissed as a difficult relationship between the AIPAC-world and the broader Sanders coalition, who are far less sunny about the continued existence of the Jewish state than the former kibbutz-dwelling Senator himself, but the cracks are showing well outside of Sanders’ orbit. Sanders’ Senate colleague and fellow presidential candidate Elilzabeth Warren (D-MA) is also choosing to skip the event, giving an affirmative “Yeah” when asked by activists from the staunchly anti-AIPAC advocacy group IfNotNow if she was skipping the event. Okay, so we lost the progressives, but Democratic moderates will surely come to their senses, right? Nope.
This campaign cycle’s centrist Democrat par excellence, former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttegieg, made a big deal about skipping the conference before sheepishly sending in a pre-recorded video message right as he was busy dropping out the race. We’ll miss you, ratboy. Longtime AIPAC allies Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and former Vice President Joe Biden will be speaking by telephone, unwilling to make the trip while they desperately try to eek out a non-defeat on Super Tuesday. Not exactly record turnout.
The lone Democrat actually attending the event will be Michael Bloomberg, with the former New York City mayor even getting a speaking spot of his own. Then again, given the aforementioned bias towards Republicans, maybe the one-time Republican Bloomberg has the edge there.
Don’t get too worried that Bloomberg might have a good time: look what horrible company he will be with. Instead of the sweet platidutinal tones of Buttegieg or an inevitable “You don’t get much snow in Israel, huh?” joke from Klobuchar, AIPAC will instead be treating attendees to a who’s-who of international reactionaries.
The conference is scheduled for major addresses from usual Trumpworld suspects like comedy duo Mike & Mike, AKA Vice President Pence and Secretary of State Pompeo, Senate Majority Leader and eldritch demon Mitch McConnell (R-KY), sun-bleached mistake Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA).
Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue & White leader Benny Gantz will both be speaking, looking for a final edge in the “I have American friends” department before they head back to the polls one last time. By the time you read this article, Israel will have just held its third election in 10 months.
What exactly justifies the presence of other kleptocratic-like speakers like Colombia’s Ivan Duque and the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Félix Tshisekedi, or the attendance of Serbia’s genocide-denying Aleksandar Vučić? Shouldn’t AIPAC strive to represent the values that the American-Israeli relationship is supposedly built upon — democracy, individual liberty, republicanism and equality of opportunity — rather than inviting every two-bit world leader who has negative feelings towards Muslim immigrants?
The most damning guest of all is the inclusion of Austria’s Chancellor Sebastian Kurtz, who until last year ruled alongside the Freedom Party, a far-right organization founded by a group of former SS officers. In what world exactly does a man content working with a group of Nazi nostalgics qualify as any kind of friend of Israel’s, let alone one worth giving a major platform to?
For those poor few remaining Democrats making an appearance, like Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and House Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), my heart goes out to you. As AIPAC ties its political fates ever tighter to the increasingly tenuous Trump-Bibi alliance, it’s becoming tough to be a full-throated Democratic Zionist in Washington, D.C. AIPAC is making life quite easy for openly pro-Palestinian Democrats like Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rep. Rashida Talib (D-MI), who once would have found themselves run out of town by AIPAC-supported Democrats, but now can skate by with a scant few grumbles and disinvitations.
If AIPAC insists on staying a factional organization, limited only to the most bellicose of Republicans and those select few Democrats gunning for the ex-Catskills set, it risks completely abandoning a generation of young American Jews already tuning the organization out. Just look at what they think of AIPAC’s least favorite candidate. According to polling from Morning Consult, 49% of Democrats between 24 and 38 years old support Sanders, while a whopping 59% between 18 and 23 would cast their vote for the Vermont Senator. In an era where President Trump’s approval rating is 71% among Israelis and 71% of American Jews voted against Trump in 2016, AIPAC risks making itself irrelevant to the exact demographic it claims to fight for.