The boycott that wasn’t: 2020 Democrats and AIPAC


Activists lobbying with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) met with a number of Democratic 2020 candidates during the three-day conference.

What’s going on — Last week, MoveOn asked on Twitter that 2020 presidential hopefuls not attend the AIPAC conference and commended absent candidates. However, no presidential hopefuls, as is AIPAC’s stated practice, were invited by AIPAC to speak on their candidacy, on stage, at the event, and at least four elected officials scheduled time with activists on the sidelines of the conference. What MoveOn had staged or goaded, simply, turned out not to be so.

2020 hopefuls who spoke to AIPAC gatherings include Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN). Both Booker and Gillibrand delivered remarks to activists from their respective states at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center Tuesday morning.

Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, while not having officially declared his candidacy, made a point to travel to Washington D.C. to meet with people at the conference, Jewish Insider reported on Tuesday.

Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT) appeared to be the only elected candidate to consciously snub the conference. His spokesperson told the Huffington Post that the senator is “concerned about the platform AIPAC is providing for leaders who have expressed bigotry and oppose a two-state solution.”

Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) did not meet with AIPAC activists. However, on Tuesday, her policy staff met with a delegation of AIPAC activists from Massachusetts.

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, who’s reportedly mulling a run for president next year, spoke at AIPAC’s Monday morning’s plenary session.

What they said — In her remarks to several hundred activists from New York, Sen. Gillibrand said, “You’re supposed to be allowed to support the state of Israel without facing antisemitism, but the truth is antisemitism is real and it is dangerous and we must not allow it to become routine or normalized.”

“Policy debates are a healthy bedrock of the American society,” Sen. Gillibrand continued. “To paraphrase Deborah Lipstadt, if you want to find criticism of Israel, just look at Haaretz. But those who want to criticize Israel’s government or raised issues with its policies should not be expressing their views by using antisemitic language. And that’s why I will always, and always have spoke out loudly and clearly whenever I heard such hurtful, bigoted tropes, whether they come from my own party or whether they come from across the aisle. Because the truth is enough was enough, and we can never allow antisemitism to become normalized.”

Why it matters — Republican headliners of the conference, Vice President Mike Pence and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, chastised Democratic hopefuls for their “boycott” of the event, marking one of the more partisan disagreements in what’s usually a strictly bipartisan confab.

Sen. Chuck Schumer assuaged listeners on Monday night, saying, “Plain and simple, the Democratic party supports Israel and we will continue to do so and we will maintain that bipartisan relationship through thick and thin. Israel depends on it.”

De Blasio told reporters it was a ”mistake” for the candidates who chose not to attend the annual gathering to allow the Republicans to accuse the Democratic Party of being hostile to the pro-Israel community. “I think it’s a mistake. It’s another reason why I would urge progressives and Democrats to show up, not seed the ground to the president on this issue,” he said.

Insider view — Halie Soifer, Executive Director of the Jewish Democratic Council of America (JDCA), told Jewish Insider: “The idea that the candidates boycotted the conference is absolutely false. Similar to what the president tweets about Jewish voters, it is an assault on decency and truth. We know that AIPAC will invite the nominees from each party in the election, just as they did in 2016, just as they did in 2008. It’s difficult, as you can imagine, for AIPAC to accommodate at this point the nearly 20 rumored and official Democratic contenders for 2020.”

“And so for those who are members of Congress, they’re engaging with their constituents, they’re involved in this conference behind the scenes. But they’re not addressing the whole forum from the floor and that is okay, it’s not a boycott. I worked for Senator Kamala Harris, for the past two years, she addressed APAC in 2017, she addressed APAC in 2018. She’s engaged this year. She happens to be running for president. if she happens to be the nominee, she’s likely be here next year just as any other Democrat who would be the nominee would be here next year.”

Amb. Daniel Shapiro: “There was no boycott. It was fiction. Notwithstanding MoveOn’s efforts to create such an impression. Notwithstanding Vice President Pence repeating falsehoods in a partisan speech. The candidates’ positions on Israel are well within the mainstream of support for Israel, its security and legitimacy, the US-Israel relationship, and efforts to achieve a two-state solution. Those who are trying to turn Israel into a partisan wedge issue risk doing serious damage to the historic bipartisan consensus that has been the foundation of the U.S.-Israel relationship.”

By Laura Kelly and Jacob Kornbluh in Washington. Follow Laura Kelly at @HelloLauraKelly and Jacob Kornbluh at @jacobkornbluh


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