Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Beto O’Rourke, Pete Buttigieg, Jay Inslee, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Julian Castro have decided not to attend the 2019 American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference after the progressive advocacy group, MoveOn.org, partnered with the activism startup, Mpower Change, urged candidates to boycott the event. John Delaney, another 2020 runner, is also not attending but only due to scheduling conflicts.
AIPAC is a pro-Israel lobbying group and one of the most important players in promoting US-Israel relations. The organization provides bipartisan support for political campaigns and candidates and has received support from both parties as seen in its conferences (like in 2016 when both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump attended the event). Top Democrats like Nancy Pelosi will be in attendance, along with Republican politicians and Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.
News of Democrats pulling out of this conference comes not too long after freshman lawmaker, Ilhan Omar, came under intense fire from both parties for her comments regarding AIPAC’s influence on American politics and her support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. Top Democrats and Republicans called out Omar’s strings of tweets as being “anti-Semitic” in nature, perpetuating a narrative that inaccurately conflates the Israel-Palestine conflict as one of religious discourse rather than settler-colonialism and human rights violations against an indigenous people.
Warren, Sanders, and Harris have offered their support for Omar during the ordeal, defending her right to start conversations about the extent of the power pro-Israel lobbying groups like AIPAC have in influencing the US’s political and economic support to Israel.
O’Rourke has also recently come out to criticize Netanyahu on “openly siding with racists.”
But before we praise the prospective 2020 Democrats on their seemingly progressive stances, let’s take a moment to consider that the move to avoid AIPAC is a one devoid of any actual solidarity with Palestine.
Remember that Kamala Harris has spoken at AIPAC’s conferences in the recent past. Or that O’Rourke has offered criticisms of Netanyahu, but continues to describe himself as a “proud advocate of Israel.” And, when Omar commented that Israel’s failure to recognize other religions didn’t uphold the statutes of a democracy, Pete Buttigieg called it inaccurate despite he himself stating that Israel couldn’t be a democracy and also a solely Jewish state not too long ago.
Just a few days ago, House Democrats began to push legislation to condemn the global BDS movement, a campaign that looks to use various forms of boycott (mainly economic means) against Israel until it meets its obligations under international law.
Let’s break down exactly why this proposed legislation makes no sense.
To start off, there’s a significant violation of our First Amendment’s right to organize. Generally, BDS seeks to achieve the following goals: Hold Israel accountable for their illegally occupied territories and settlements, ensure equality for Arab-Palestinian citizens, return displaced Palestinian refugees to their homes, denounce state-sanctioned violence against Palestinians.
With all that in mind, it becomes clear that moves like refusing to attend an AIPAC conference are fraught with hypocrisy and performative solidarity.
Many of the Democrats boycotting the conference have expressed varying shades of criticism for the current administration in Israel, but continue to support it as an integral foreign ally. All of this takes place while they vehemently denounce movements like BDS, which are fighting for the rights of the Palestinian people.
This “boycott” will definitely continue to widen the growing rift between Democrats and Republicans when it comes to an overt, unwavering right-wing support of AIPAC.
As long as Democrats continue validating Israel’s statehood and crippling the movements fighting for the civil rights of Palestinians, they’ll remain a massive roadblock in the path to Palestinian liberation.