WASHINGTON (JTA) — Senator Elizabeth Warren indicated on Thursday that she would skip the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC’s conference next month and did not push back against questionable assertions about the lobby from a questioner at a campaign event in New Hampshire.
In a sign of how the lobby has become a political lightning rod for Democrats, Warren answered “yeah” when asked if she was planning to skip the conference in Washington in March.
“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,” a woman attending a town hall with Warren in Derry, New Hampshire said. “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.”
The Jewish anti-occupation group IfNotNow said that the questioner, identified as Sarah O’Connor, was acting on its behalf.
A spokesman for the AIPAC declined to comment.
— IfNotNow???? (@IfNotNowOrg) February 7, 2020
In a joint statement released Friday with three other progressive groups — Indivisible, MoveOn, and the Working Families Party — IfNotNow echoed the language O’Connor used with Warren and said it was launching a campaign, #SkipAIPAC, to pressure other candidates not to attend the conference.
“Israel’s decades-long occupation has eroded the bipartisan consensus on Israel and AIPAC, in a last-ditch effort to maintain influence, now anchors an unholy alliance with antisemites, Islamophobes and white nationalists,” IfNotNow co-founder Emily Mayer said. “This unholy alliance shields the Israeli government from any consequences for its actions and pushes for a blank check that has had disastrous effects for both Palestinians and Israelis. No Democrat should give AIPAC political cover with their presence.”
O’Connor pressed Warren further on whether she would ask other candidates to join her in boycotting the event, a fixture of the Washington political calendar that has long drawn a healthy representation from both of the major political parties. Warren did not answer, saying instead that she is committed to a two-state solution and to being a “good ally” to both Israel and the Palestinians.
“We’re not doing that if we keep standing with one party and saying, ‘We’re on your side, we’re going to give all the things you asked for,’ for all kinds of political reasons domestically here and domestically in Israel,” she said.
AIPAC traditionally invites presidential candidates to address its annual March gathering in election years. A boycott of the conference by Democratic candidates would signal how toxic the group has become among the party’s progressives, for whom Warren is a flag bearer. So far no other candidate has yet committed either way, but Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, Warren’s rival to lead the party’s progressive wing, has said he has “no objection” to going.
Warren, who has also said she may leverage aid to pressure Israel into concessions, drew immediate censure for the not confronting O’Connor on her questionable claims.
“As the 2020 Dems get more & more anti-Israel, will any of them stand up and condemn comments like these?” Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas said on Twitter. “Directly? Or are they too scared of the angry anti-Semitic Left?”
The American Jewish Committee noted that like Warren, AIPAC is committed to the two-state solution.
“AIPAC is a pro-Israel voice that agrees with you (and us) about the need for a two-state solution negotiated by both sides,” AJC said on Twitter. “We hope you find an opportunity to clarify that you do not agree with the questioner’s baseless and offensive characterization of the organization.”
AIPAC did not invite any presidential candidate to its conference last year, although MoveOn got traction by claiming that the candidates’ non-attendance was a results of its call to boycott the conference. AIPAC does not invite presidential candidates to speak in non-election years.
AIPAC has taken pains in the past to distance itself from members and allies who have attacked minorities. The lobby also has dedicated staff who work on deepening the group’s ties to progressives.
The IfNotNow statement cited several examples in support of its claim that AIPAC has forged an “unholy alliance” with racists and bigots.
The group faulted AIPAC for its alliance with Christian Zionist pastor John Hagee, who in the 1990s said that Adolf Hitler was part of God’s plan because his actions helped lead to the state of Israel. Hagee long ago apologized for the remarks.
Also named was Steve Emerson, a terrorism expert who has made several appearances at AIPAC conferences, most recently in 2016. Liberal groups have described him as anti-Muslim for exaggerating the threat of radical Islam. Emerson has been widely mocked in European media for describing some European cities as off-limits to non-Muslims.