Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg used his speech during the American Israel Public Committee (AIPAC) conference on Monday to lash out at fellow Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, who boycotted the meeting.
The billionaire candidate vying for the Democratic nomination told the powerful pro-Israel lobby group that if elected president, he will never curb military aid to Israel, referring to the $3.3bn a year the United States gives to Israel each year.
“I will never impose conditions on military aid no matter what government is in power,” he said to a standing ovation, adding that he will “always have Israel’s back”.
The annual conference, which organisers say will draw 20,000 attendees, comes during a busy period for candidates before Super Tuesday, when 14 states will head to the polls in the primary Democratic race.
The three-day event once hosted most Democratic and Republican candidates during election years but analysts said AIPAC has alienated the more liberal Democratic voters, who have grown increasingly critical of US foreign policy towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict under the administration of President Donald Trump.
Under #SkipAIPAC on Twitter, liberal Jewish and other groups called on presidential candidates to boycott this year’s event, saying AIPAC endorses unconditional support for the state of Israel, promotes the continued military occupation of Palestinian territory want and is aligned with the policies of right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“AIPAC used the veneer of bipartisanship in order to push forward a radical right-wing agenda that works against diplomacy and to protect the Israeli government from any meaningful consequences for abusing the human rights of the Palestinian people,” Yonah Lieberman, co-founder of the Jewish group IfNotNow told Al Jazeera.
American Jews are sick & tired of the establishment equating unconditional military funding for a brutal military occupation w/ "support for Israel." Giving the ruling racist party everything it wants undermines Israelis on the left who want freedom & dignity for all. #SkipAIPAC
— IfNotNow🔥 (@IfNotNowOrg) March 2, 2020
Senators Sanders and Elizabeth Warren heeded that call, with Sanders, who has never attended the conference, saying he remained “concerned about the platform AIPAC provides for leaders who express bigotry and oppose basic Palestinian rights”.
Bloomberg was the only Democratic presidential candidate of the five remaining hopefuls scheduled to attend the conference in person. He slammed his fellow candidates for missing the event, and singled out frontrunner Sanders.
“He’s dead wrong,” Bloomberg said of Sanders’s comments.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, who is also vying for the Democratic nomination for president, addressed the conference in a pre-recorded video speech on Sunday. He said Israel’s policies are undermining support for the country among young people in both political parties in the US.
“Israel, I think, has to stop the threats of annexation and settlement activity, like the recent announcement to build thousands of settlements in E1,” Biden said referring to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s announcement last week that he planned on building 3,500 homes in the occupied West Bank.
Hady Amr, former deputy special envoy for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict under the administration of Barack Obama, said, “Bloomberg sounded a lot like politicians of the past.”
He told Al Jazeera that Bloomberg’s speech “had too little focus on the transformation that has taken place within the Democratic Party, which has embraced equality, freedom, security and prosperity for both the Jewish and Palestinian peoples in the Holy Land”.
Trump, a Republican, has positioned himself as a staunch supporter of Israel and a strong ally of Netanyahu. He moved the US embassy to Jerusalem, supported settlements in the occupied West Bank and recognised Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.
Bloomberg, who said he supports a two-state solution to the decades-old conflict, promised to oppose the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which criticises Israeli policies against Palestinians – saying, it is trying to “delegitimise and punish” the state of Israel.