On Wednesday of this week Vermont Senator and a Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders was asked by a Jewish student in New Hampshire whether he was planning to attend the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference. Here’s the full exchange:
My name is Sarah. I’m Jewish. And I care a lot about Palestinian and Israeli human rights, and so last week I was disgusted and horrified as I’m sure you were too by the release of Trump’s so-called peace plan, because it promises to expand and extend permanent occupation and annexation in Israel/Palestine. AIPAC rushed to embrace the plan and their annual policy conference is coming up in a month and we know that what they do there, as they do every year, is use the opportunity to shore up support for unconditional military aid in the form of a blank check to fund occupation, and they do that by forming alliances with Islamophobes and anti-Semites and white supremacists and that doesn’t represent my values. I’m not going to the conference. You made it very clear last year that it doesn’t represent your values either and so you weren’t going last year. You’re not going this year, right?
Sanders: Well if I do go — I don’t think I am, I don’t think it’s going to be on my schedule — but you know, I have no objection to going, but the question is what I say when I get there. That’s the point. And what I will say is something that I have said for years, and I speak as somebody who’s Jewish, and that is we need a foreign policy in this country, we need a Mideast policy which absolutely protects the integrity and the independence and safety of Israel, but also understands that the Palestinian people have needs and they have got to be treated with respect and dignity. And that is not the case right now. So that is my view. We will treat all people with respect and dignity.
In 2016, Sanders was the only Democratic candidate to skip the conference. However, he claimed that his absence was merely the byproduct of a scheduling conflict. “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,” he wrote to the organization, “Unfortunately, I am going to be traveling throughout the West and the campaign schedule that we have prevents me from attending.
Yesterday, the same student asked Massachusetts Senator, and fellow Democratic hopeful, Elizabeth Warren about the conference in New Hampshire. Warren said she wouldn’t attend, but didn’t expand on her reasoning. However, she used the opportunity to call for a two-state solution in the region.
Sarah: I’m an American Jew and I’m terrified by the unholy alliance that AIPAC is forming with Islamophobes and anti-Semites and white nationalists and no Democrat should legitimize that kind of bigotry by attending their annual policy conference and I’m really grateful that you skipped the AIPAC conference last year and so my question is if you’ll join me in committing to skip the AIPAC conference this March.
Sarah: What would you say to other candidates that are considering going?
Warren: The way I see this….let’s talk just a little bit more about policy in Israel because I think this is really important. The way I see this is that, for America to be a good ally of Israel and of the Palestinians, we need to encourage both parties to get to the negotiating table and we’re not doing that if we keep standing with one party and saying, “We’re on your side. We’re going to give you all the things you ask for for all kinds of political reasons, domestically here and domestically in Israel.” The two-state solution is not something people just thought up. It has been the official policy of the United States of America for nearly 70 years and the official policy of Israel. We need a solution in Israel that is a longterm peace solution and that means something that provides protection for the Israelis and provides self-determination and dignity for the Palestinians. We need to encourage the parties to come together. That’s what we want to see them do and have them negotiate out the right answer that’s going to work for them. The details, the settlements, the occupations, the capital, that’s what the parties should negotiate and we are not a good friend to either party, when we disrupt that process and keep it from going forward. So, as President of the United States I will do my best to urge both parties to come to the negotiating table and work out a longterm peaceful solution.
None of the other candidates have indicated whether or not they will skip the conference, which takes place in Washington D.C. from March 1-3, but it will surely emerge as an issue in the coming weeks.