(March 2, 2020 / JNS) WASHINGTON—Former New York City Mayor and Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg laid out his case to the pro-Israel community on Monday at the annual AIPAC Policy Conference, even calling out one of his rivals, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), by name for skipping the largest gathering of pro-Israel activists.
“Bipartisan support for Israel has been a defining feature of American politics since 1948—and this organization has played a crucial role in fostering it,” said Bloomberg.
However, he added, “in recent years, we have begun to see cracks in that bipartisanship—and that is deeply troubling. Unfortunately, not all of my fellow Democrats in this race have attended an AIPAC conference. One of them, Senator Sanders, has spent 30 years boycotting this event. And as you’ve heard by now, he called AIPAC a racist platform.”
“Well, he’s dead wrong,” said Bloomberg.
Bloomberg went on to say that “this is a gathering of 20,000 Israel supporters of every religious denomination, ethnicity, faith, color, sexual identity and political party. Calling it a racist platform is an attempt to discredit those voices, intimidate people from coming here and weaken the U.S.-Israel relationship.”
Sanders announced on Feb. 23 that he would skip the AIPAC conference.
“The reality is: AIPAC doesn’t fuel hatred. AIPAC works to combat it and the violence that it can produce.”
“The Israeli people have the right to live in peace and security. So do the Palestinian people. 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,” he tweeted. “As president, I will support the rights of both Israelis and Palestinians and do everything possible to bring peace and security to the region.”
AIPAC immediately criticized Sanders.
“Senator Sanders has never attended our conference and that is evident from his outrageous comment,” said the pro-Israel lobby in a statement. “In fact, many of his own Senate and House Democratic colleagues and leaders speak from our platform to the over 18,000 Americans from widely diverse backgrounds—Democrats, Republicans, Jews, Christians, African-Americans, Hispanic Americans, members of the LBGTQ+ community—who participate in the conference to proclaim their support for the U.S.-Israel relationship.”
“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,” continued AIPAC. “Truly shameful.”
In his speech, Bloomberg said “the reality is: AIPAC doesn’t fuel hatred. AIPAC works to combat it and the violence that it can produce. And if more elected officials spoke to the people here, they’d understand that.”
The move by Sanders follows fellow Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who said earlier last month that she wouldn’t attend the conference. AIPAC has declined to comment on Warren’s absence from the event.
Also in his address, Bloomberg expressed opposition to the BDS movement and to “stand up to efforts to hold Israel to a double standard at the United Nations.”
He reiterated that while the U.S. embassy should have been moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in May 2018 “as part of a peace negotiation,” he has in the past always supported such a decision and that, if elected, the embassy would be left in Jerusalem “because that is where it belongs.”
The former mayor did, however, call for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to be “achieved through direct negotiations. Because Israel must remain a prosperous, secure and stable Jewish democracy and because Palestinians deserve dignity, democracy and opportunity, too.”
“Presidential leadership matters. It sets a tone. It is inclusive or exclusive, divisive or uniting, incendiary or calming.”
On the Iranian threat, Bloomberg reiterated his stance in that, while he opposed the Iran nuclear deal “because the deal should’ve done more to address Iran’s ballistic-missile program and because we never should have unfrozen their money without mandating that they end their financing of terrorism and because many of the restrictions in the deal came with an expiration date,” the United States shouldn’t have left it in May 2018 and instead work with U.S. allies to strengthen it.
He said the U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear accord “was tantamount to giving Iran permission to relaunch its nuclear program. And after years of compliance, Iran is once again marching toward the development of nuclear weapons capability.”
“As president, I will make the strongest deal possible to constrain the Iranian regime’s aggression and territorial ambitions and put an end to their nuclear program forever because the world must never allow Iran to threaten Israel and the whole region with a nuclear attack,” he said.
‘We must stand up to these attacks together’
Finally, Bloomberg called for the “need to stand up to anti-Semitism everywhere, including here in the United States.”
“And when we look around America, it’s clear we are facing not only another epidemic of anti-Semitism, but a rising tide of hatred writ large,” he continued. “Because the fact is: There’s been an increase in attacks on all groups that have a long history of being scapegoated and repressed for being ‘other,’ ‘different,’ ‘lesser’ and ‘less than fully American.’ I’m talking not only about Jews but also about immigrants, Muslims, black Americans, women and the LGBTQ community We must stand up to these attacks together.”
At the end of the day, stated Bloomberg, “anti-Semitism is hardly the exclusive domain of any one group. It can be found on both the right and the left—on town squares and campus quads. But there is one face that we cannot ignore: Presidential leadership matters. It sets a tone. It is either inclusive or exclusive, divisive or uniting, incendiary or calming.”
“If I am elected president, I will strongly condemn anti-Semitism, wherever and whenever it appears,” he said. “And Americans will never have to choose between supporting Israel and supporting our values here at home. I will defend both, because I know they always have been liked, and our strong relationship with Israel is based on our values.”
Following Bloomberg’s speech, Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), who endorsed Bloomberg, said that the former mayor “made clear in no uncertain terms exactly where he stands. Which is on the side of the overwhelming majority of Americans, Republicans and Democrats, who believe that the U.S.-Israel relationship and supporting it strongly is in the interests of both countries.”
On Monday, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden each sent a video message to the AIPAC conference. Bloomberg was the only Democratic presidential candidate to address the event in person.
Whether Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) will address the conference in any capacity is to be determined. The Gabbard campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
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