Nine Democratic presidential candidates to skip AIPAC’s pro-Israel conference

Donald Trump branded the Democratic Party “anti-Jewish”

US Senator Elizabeth Warren speaks during an organizing event at the Arc in the borough of Queens, New York City on March 8, 2019. / AFP / COREY SIPKIN
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The annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is generating plenty of controversy even before it starts on Sunday.

At least nine candidates for President from the Democratic primary have issued statements in the last 48 hours, announcing that they will be skipping the AIPAC conference.

The move is in of itself unusual, given that primary candidates don’t traditionally speak at AIPAC, but have decided this year to make a political point and note their absence from the pro-Israel gathering.

The candidates who have so far declared that they won’t be attending are Senators Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, Kirsten Gillibrand, former Congressman Beto O’Rourke, mayor Pete Buttigieg, former Secretary of Housing Julian Castro, and Washington Governor Jay Inslee.

Former Congressman John Delaney will not attend as well but he attributed it to “scheduling conflict" rather than a decision to skip the meeting.

The high number of declared absentees from the Democrats’ side followed a campaign by the liberal group MoveOn urging representatives of the party to not appear at the meeting.

Iram Ali, a campaign director at MoveOn said: “It is no secret that that AIPAC has worked to hinder diplomatic efforts like the Iran deal, is undermining Palestinian self-determination, and inviting figures actively involved in human rights violations to its stage.”

He added that the MoveOn campaign to boycott the conference is in response to a survey of its members that shows 74 per cent support for the idea.

Some of candidates skipping AIPAC are among the frontrunners in the Democratic 2020 race. But others such as Senators Amy Klobuchar, and Cory Booker have not issued a statement.

Former Vice President Joseph Biden who is wildly expected to jump in the race in the next two weeks, has not taken a position either.

MoveOn is also urging other Democratic figures to withdraw from the conference with limited success.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer and Senator Bob Menendez are all senior Democratic figures who will address the meeting the three day conference.

US President Donald Trump said the absence of the Democratic candidates from AIPAC showed the party was "anti-Jewish".

“They are totally anti-Israel," he said, describing the move as a "disgrace".

Mr Trump lost the the Jewish vote to Hillary Clinton by a margin of 47 per cent (71 to 24).

But the Trump campaign is hoping to attract a bigger segment of the Jewish vote in 2020 bolstered by the president's staunch support for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his decisions to move the US embassy to Jerusalem and recognise Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Golan on Thursday.

US Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley are all expected to address the AIPAC conference.

Mr Netanyahu will deliver his speech to the group on Tuesday and will be meeting Mr Trump in the White House beforehand. His election rival Benny Gantz will also address AIPAC.

But the Democratic candidates absence follows a tumultuous period between AIPAC and the liberal base.

Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar came under attack this year after accusing AIPAC of being too powerful.

Her comments were seen by some of her colleagues in Congress as anti-Semitic prompting the Democratic leadership to vote on a bill that rejects all forms of hate, racism, white supremacy and anti-semitism.

A recent Gallup poll has shown that support for Israel fell among Democrats from 49 per cent to 43 per cent.