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Multiple 2020 Democrat Contenders Say They Won't Attend AIPAC as Israel Divide Deepens

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Multiple Democratic presidential contenders say they won't attend the American Israel Public Affairs Committee Annual Conference (AIPAC) in Washington next week. 

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT), former US Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-TX), Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) are among the 2020 candidates who have decided not to attend. 

The decisions come as left-wing advocacy group MoveOn put heavy pressure on the contenders not to attend this year's conference. MoveOn argues AIPAC tried to stop the Iran nuclear deal and used "anti-Muslim and anti-Arab rhetoric".

"It's no secret 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," stated Iram Ali, campaign director for MoveOn's Political Action Committee. "We asked our members what they think so that we can make more informed decisions — and over 74% agreed that progressive presidential candidates should skip the AIPAC conference."

"This should also give a clear insight to 2020 candidates on where their base stands instead of prioritizing lobbying groups and policy people who rarely step outside of DC," she added. 

As the contenders choose to give into the pressure, Democrat leaders House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) are still expected to speak. The moves by the candidates highlight the growing divide among Democrats regarding the US-Israeli relationship. 

In February, the growing division came to the surface as freshman Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), was caught in a series of anti-Semitic remarks. The remarks included an implied statement that lobbyists from AIPAC were financially supporting lawmakers to assist Israel, an accusation that Israel is not "a real democracy" because it's Jewish, and a statement that US support for Israel was "all about the Benjamin's baby". 

In an exclusive interview with CBN News in Jerusalem Thursday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo condemned Omar's numerous anti-Semitic remarks. 

"To see this from a member of Congress like Congresswoman Omar is – I talked about this being dark. The rise of anti-Semitism in the United States and in Europe and in, frankly, all across the world is something that is deeply troubling, and to see someone – a duly elected congressman – behave in that way, to speak about anti-Semitism in that way, is of great concern. It's a great concern to me.  This administration speaks the truth, and anti-Semitism is unacceptable in any form from anyone, but to see it come from one of America's leaders is just abhorrent," Pompeo said.

The remarks have also drawn criticism from a few in her own party. Rep. Max Rose (D-NY) said, "At a time when anti-Semitic attacks are on the rise, our leaders should not be invoking hurtful stereotypes and caricatures of Jewish people to dismiss those who support Israel."

However, other progressive-leaning Democrats such as Sen. Bernie Sanders and freshman Democrat Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) essentially defended Omar. 

"One of the things that is hurtful about the extent to which reprimand is sought of Ilhan is that no one seeks this level of reprimand when members make statements about Latinx + other communities (during the shutdown, a GOP member yelled 'Go back to Puerto Rico!' on the floor)," tweeted Ocasio-Ortez. 


And when Speaker Pelosi initiated a resolution in the House of Representatives to condemn the anti-Semitic remarks, the measure was vastly changed to condemn other forms of hatred after anti-Israel Democrats complained. The final resolution did not single out anti-Semitism.  

The divide in the Democrat Party gives indication that the US-Israeli relationship will be a strong issue in the upcoming 2020 election.

"I think Republicans will make sure it's an issue. I think Jewish Democrats will make sure it's an issue," Real Clear Politics' AB Stoddard said.

Stoddard warns that the Democrats' growing problem with anti-Semitism could create a big opening for Republicans – and Democratic leaders know that. "They're very concerned about the direction of the party, support for the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement," she noted.

AIPAC's conference speakers include Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Vice President Mike Pence, Former Ambassador to the United Nation Nikki Haley, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. 

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