US elections 2020: Four major Democratic candidates to skip Aipac conference

Former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg is only candidate planning to appear at the pro-Israel gathering

Four major Democratic candidates in the race to become US president are skipping the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s conference next week.

The absence is the largest for the party in an election year.

Progressive senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, and centrist candidates Senator Amy Klobuchar and former mayor of South Bend, Pete Buttigieg, will skip the Aipac conference due to begin in Washington on Sunday.

Ms Klobuchar told the Jewish News Syndicate that she would not be attending because the conference schedule clashed with her travel for the Super Tuesday vote on March 3.

Mr Buttigieg also said there was a conflict with his travel arrangements.

But Ms Warren, who was the first to announce she would be skipping Aipac, made the commitment in a town hall meeting on February 7 in response to a question from a member of the audience.

Mr Sanders, who called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a “reactionary racist” in the debate on Tuesday, announced his decision this week while rebuking Aipac.

He tweeted that the group provided platform “for leaders who express bigotry and oppose basic Palestinian rights”.

It is unclear if former vice president Joe Biden will attend the conference. Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg is so far the only Democratic candidate due to attend.

The absences draw Israel and Aipac deep into the partisan debate about US policy toward Israel.

Key Republican figures including Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will address the conference.

Former national security adviser John Bolton accused Mr Sanders of promoting “extremism” by skipping the conference.

But the leftist Jewish group If Not Now welcomed the news, calling it a watershed moment and a major victory against bigotry:

The Trump administration has been keen to support Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and has taken unprecedented steps in showing support to his government.

It moved the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, recognised the occupied Golan Heights, cut aid to the UN Relief and Works Agency, and shut down the Palestine Liberation Organisation office in Washington.