- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
WASHINGTON – Sen. Bernie Sanders drew the ire of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and its supporters after he announced he would not attend the lobbying group's annual conference because he said the organization gives a platform for "bigotry."
Sanders – who now leads the presidential pack in delegates after wins in Nevada and New Hampshire – has been an outspoken critic of Israel's treatment of Palestinians and derided Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a "racist" during a Democratic debate in December.
"The Israeli people have the right to live in peace and security. So do the Palestinian people," Sanders tweeted Sunday. "I remain concerned about the platform AIPAC provides for leaders who express bigotry and oppose basic Palestinian rights. For that reason I will not attend their conference.
"As president, I will support the rights of both Israelis and Palestinians and do everything possible to bring peace and security to the region," he said in a second tweet.
AIPAC responded, calling Sanders remarks "insulting" and "shameful" in a statement.
"Senator Sanders has never attended our conference and that is evident from his outrageous comment," the group said. AIPAC said that Sanders' fellow members of Congress are among those it gives a platform to and that "18,000 Americans from widely diverse backgrounds" participate in the conference.
"By engaging in such an odious attack on the mainstream, bipartisan American political event, Senator Sanders is insulting his very own colleagues and the millions of Americans who stand with Israel. Truly shameful," AIPAC's statement said.
The pro-Israel lobbying group also retweeted several people who defended its work or who criticized Sanders' comments.
"Sen. Sanders, You won’t address 18,000 Americans of all backgrounds celebrating US-Israel ties. Shame. You overlook core interests & values at heart of link. Shame. You describe #AIPAC as a platform for bigotry. Shame. You ignore AIPAC’s support for 2-state deal. Shame," tweeted David Harris, CEO of the American Jewish Committee.
"If Sen. Bernie Sanders wants to lead the Democratic Party and the nation, I hope he can speak to, engage with, and even debate everyone. Don’t skip AIPAC; speak to –and with – participants at AIPAC," tweeted Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism.
Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., whose tweets last year criticizing AIPAC were widely condemned as anti-Semitic, applauded Sanders' decision and thanked him "for standing up for Palestinian human rights." She said "all candidates should follow Bernie's example."
Sanders is not the only Democratic presidential candidate who is not planning to attend the AIPAC conference next month.
Earlier this month, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts said she would not attend in response to a question from an audience member at a campaign event in New Hampshire. The woman, whom Haaretz reports was part of a pro-Palestinian group, told Warren that AIPAC was forming an "unholy alliance" with "Islamophobes and anti-Semites and white nationalists."
Asserting that "no Democrat should legitimize that kind of bigotry by attending their annual policy conference," she asked Warren if she would commit to skipping the event.
"Yeah," Warren replied.
Warren and Sanders, whose presidential campaigns were already in full swing at this time last year, also skipped the conference in 2019, as did several of their fellow Democratic hopefuls who have since dropped out of the race.
When an activist in New Hampshire asked former Vice President Joe Biden to commit to skipping this year's conference, Biden said, "No, because I'm there to convince them to change their position."
Contributing: The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Bernie Sanders' AIPAC tweets blasted by pro-Israel group as 'shameful'