Opinion

Why 2020 Democrats Skipped AIPAC: Pro-Israel Group Is Often the Antithesis of Progressive Values | Opinion

In 2007, both Democratic presidential candidates attended AIPAC’s annual convention. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama even threw parties at the organization’s signature event, signaling their commitment to AIPAC and its values. This past weekend marked AIPAC’s annual convention in D.C., just 12 years later. Not one Democratic candidate for president showed.

And they made the right call.

Because when it comes down to it, AIPAC’s policies are not progressive policies. AIPAC’s values are not progressive values.

It’s time to call a spade a spade.

AIPAC is not progressive. You cannot call yourself a progressive while continuing to associate yourself with an organization like AIPAC that has often been the antithesis of what it means to be progressive.

In 2015, AIPAC spent tens of millions of dollars trying to defeat the Iran nuclear deal crafted by President Obama. The deal was historic in its attempt to create and maintain peace. Now it’s being sabotaged by the Trump administration, who has found in AIPAC a strong partner. In its attempts to ruin the Iran deal, AIPAC supported the group that’s credited with inspiring President Trump to enact the Muslim Ban and has been known to spread anti-Muslim racism.

Then there’s the AIPAC conference itself: This year, the headlining speaker was none other than Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu not only has personal charges levied against him—he’s been indicted on both bribery and fraud charges—but under his leadership of Israel, according to the United Nations, Israel may have committed war crimes in its attacks on Gazan protesters.

Unfortunately, AIPAC’s policy and conference speaker choices aren’t its only problems. Its severely racist, Islamophobic rhetoric has proven just as alarming. The organization has become known for trafficking in anti-Muslim and anti-Arab rhetoric while lifting up Islamophobic voices and attitudes. As we’ve seen over the course of the Trump administration’s tenure, words can prove just as destructive as laws. Anti-Muslim and anti-Arab rhetoric doesn’t simply sit in a silo. It interacts with the world, creating and fuming hatred that leads to hateful acts, whether the package is individual hate crimes—or collective—the Muslim ban.

This history along with clear momentum created the right moment to call on Democratic candidates to skip AIPAC

In fact, 74 percent of MoveOn members who responded to our survey believe that any progressive vying to be the Democratic nominee for president should skip the AIPAC conference. What’s more, it’s clear that the progressive base writ large sees AIPAC as antithetical to progressive values. If it didn’t, why would every single Democratic candidate have felt comfortable skipping the conference (which, by the way, many have attended in years past)?

This weekend, a number of Democratic candidates for president recognized that AIPAC is nothing more than a partisan lobbying group that has failed, time and time again, to uphold progressive values.

I wish everyone in the party could say the same.

aipac, israel, skipping, 2020 democrats House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) speaks at the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference on March 26, 2019, in Washington, D.C. Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Instead of standing for progressive values, some Democratic members of Congress did just the opposite: they attended the conference and proceeded to bash the freshmen congresswomen who paved the way in identifying AIPAC as the obstacle to progress that it is. But disavowing AIPAC and skipping its conference isn’t anti-Semitic.

After all, AIPAC itself has refused to condemn the repeated and callous anti-Semitic remarks that have come out of the Trump administration. Steve Bannon, a close ally and former member of the Trump administration, reportedly had his kids removed from school because of “the number of Jews that attend” and that he “didn’t want [his children] going to school with Jews.” These “reports” are according to Bannon’s wife.

AIPAC declined to comment.

Time after time, policy after policy, speech after speech. At nearly every opportunity, AIPAC has shown that it is no bastion of progressivism.

And I for one am glad that a number of candidates running on my party’s ticket feel the same. Because ultimately, this wasn’t about skipping the AIPAC annual conference. It was about boldly choosing to prioritize diplomacy and human rights over the power of a lobbying organization. And this is exactly the type of attitude we need heading into 2020.

Karine Jean-Pierre is the national spokesperson and senior adviser for MoveOn, a political analyst for NBC News and MSNBC and worked in the administration of President Barack Obama.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.

Correction (03/28/19, 1:40 p.m.): An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that every Democratic presidential candidate had skipped AIPAC because of the arguments put forward in this piece. While no Democratic candidate for president attended AIPAC, not all recognized AIPAC’s influence and failure to uphold progressive values. This has been corrected.

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