Democrats Buttigieg, Klobuchar latest to skip AIPAC conference
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Democrats Buttigieg, Klobuchar latest to skip AIPAC conference

Party moderates join the growing list of 2020 hopefuls to avoid annual pro-Israel confab

Eric Cortellessa covers American politics for The Times of Israel.

Democratic presidential candidates, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Democat-Minnesota, right, speaks as former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg looks on during a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by NBC News and MSNBC in Las Vegas, February 19, 2020. (John Locher/AP)
Democratic presidential candidates, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Democat-Minnesota, right, speaks as former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg looks on during a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by NBC News and MSNBC in Las Vegas, February 19, 2020. (John Locher/AP)

WASHINGTON — Two leading Democratic presidential hopefuls said Wednesday that they would not attend the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) upcoming conference, shrinking the list of potential 2020 Democrats to show up as the pro-Israel lobby tries to maintain its bipartisan identity.

Former South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg and Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar each said they would miss the annual confab, which takes place in Washington, DC on March 1-4.

Their announcements come after Democratic frontrunner Bernie Sanders tweeted on Sunday that he would skip the conference because he was “concerned about the platform AIPAC provides for leaders who express bigotry and oppose basic Palestinian rights.”

AIPAC excoriated Sanders for his refusal to attend its conference.

“By engaging in such an odious attack on this mainstream, bipartisan American political event, Senator Sanders is insulting his very own colleagues and the millions of Americans who stand with Israel,” AIPAC spokesman Marshall Wittman told The Times of Israel. “Truly shameful.”

In recent months, left-wing organizations such as MoveOn, Indivisible, the Working Families Party and IfNotNow have been pressuring the Democratic candidates to skip the AIPAC conference, waging an online campaign with the hashtag “#SkipAIPAC.”

IfNotNow celebrated Buttigieg’s and Klobuchar’s announcements, calling it a “watershed moment” in a statement.

Even moderates in the Democratic Party are now refusing to attend a conference by a right-wing lobby that allies with bigots just to shield the Israeli government from any consequences for denying the Palestinian people freedom and dignity,” the group said.

In a bid to display its bipartisan bonafides in the wake of the Sanders controversy, AIPAC announced Monday a number of Democratic speakers, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, chair of the US House Democratic Caucus and one of the House managers in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump.

Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg will also address the thousands gathered in the nation’s capital. He is, thus far, the only Democratic presidential candidate committed to the event.

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren has already said she would not be attending. An AIPAC spokesman told The Times of Israel earlier this week that the organization was still “in the process of finalizing speakers.”

The confab will include several members of the Trump administration, including Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman.

Over the last several years, AIPAC has been supportive of the Trump administration and its policies toward Israel, such as moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, withdrawing the US from the Iran nuclear deal and recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

The organization has been quiet, however, on the White House peace plan unveiled last month, which envisions the creation of a limited Palestinian state in about 70 percent of the West Bank, a small handful of neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, most of Gaza and some areas of southern Israel — if the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state, disarm Hamas and other terror groups in the Gaza Strip, and fulfill other conditions.

The plan also allows Israel to annex settlements, grants the Jewish state sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and overriding security control west of the Jordan River, and bars Palestinian refugees from settling in Israel.

The Palestinian Authority has vehemently rejected the plan. “No, no and no to the ‘Deal of the Century,’” said PA President Mahmoud Abbas.”

Tuesday night’s Democratic debate reveals some of the fault lines between the candidates vis-à-vis Israel policy. While Sanders said he would consider moving the US embassy from Jerusalem back to Tel Aviv, Bloomberg said he wouldn’t.

“You can’t move the embassy back,” Bloomberg said. “We should not have done it without getting something from the Israeli government, but it was done and you’re going to have to leave it there.”

Warren, for her part, said Israelis and Palestinians should determine their capitals through negotiations — and criticized Trump for favoring Israel.

“We want to be a good ally to everyone in the region,” she said. “The best way to do that is to encourage the parties to get to the negotiating tables themselves. Donald Trump’s big mistake is he keeps putting a thumb on the scale of just one side, and that moves the sides further away from working out their own solution.”

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