Pence, Pompeo to speak at AIPAC policy conference

Powerful pro-Israel lobby announces administration officials to appear at confab for third time, day after leading Democrat Bernie Sanders snubs it

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (R) and US Vice President Mike Pence (L) at a luncheon at the State Department in Washington, September 20, 2019. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP)
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (R) and US Vice President Mike Pence (L) at a luncheon at the State Department in Washington, September 20, 2019. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP)

WASHINGTON — US Vice President Mike Pence and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will address the 2020 AIPAC Policy Conference next week, representing the Trump administration, the powerful pro-Israel lobby announced Monday.

Both Pence and Pompeo have spoken at the last three policy conferences since joining the administration of US President Donald Trump.

Trump himself addressed the gathering in 2016 as a candidate, but has not returned to the annual venue since.

While the addition of Pence would appear to rule out an appearance by Trump, who is running for re-election in November, an official with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee did not rule out the president joining the confab.

“We will continue to make speaker announcements in the next few days,” the official told The Times of Israel on background.

The 2020 conference will take place in Washington, DC, from March 1 to 4.

So far no Democratic contenders for the presidency have confirmed they will speak at the conference, which in the past has been regarded as a required stop for those seeking the White House.

On Sunday, leading Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders said he would not attend the confab,  emphasizing that he was “concerned about the platform AIPAC provides for leaders who express bigotry and oppose basic Palestinian rights.”

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.”

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

AIPAC on Sunday excoriated Sanders for rebuffing the lobby group, which has taken pains to remain bipartisan but is increasingly seen by some as a conservative bastion. “Senator Sanders has never attended our conference and that is evident from his outrageous comment,” AIPAC spokesman Marshall Wittmann told The Times of Israel.

“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. Truly shameful,” Wittman added.

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 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.”

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