Republicans at AIPAC conference attack Bernie Sanders

Man speaks at podium with AIPAC background

Vice President Mike Pence inveighed against Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders at the annual AIPAC conference in Washington, DC.

Michael Brochstein ZUMA Press

Republican speakers at AIPAC’s annual conference this week lambasted Bernie Sanders for rejecting the event and calling AIPAC a platform for “leaders who express bigotry.”

Timid Democrats let Sanders, a leading Democratic presidential contender, get pummeled while remaining silent on the racism of President Donald Trump and top officials such as Stephen Miller, Ambassador David Friedman and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Anti-Semitic violence and other acts of racism have exploded during Trump’s three-year tenure.

Former Vice President and the new Democratic presidential frontrunner Joe Biden, who backed the war against Iraq, spoke by video from South Carolina. He did note the rise in anti-Semitism in the US, but without mentioning Trump.

Biden voiced support for an exclusivist Jewish state – whitewashed as democratic and Jewish as though that was not implicitly against the rights of Palestinian citizens – and, in a dig at Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, indicated he would never boycott AIPAC.

In doing so, he normalized the hate at AIPAC that Sanders has pushed back against in recent days.

The accusers

At AIPAC, however, punching Sanders proved sport for participants.

Danny Danon, the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, slammed Sanders as an “ignorant fool.”

“We don’t want Bernie Sanders at AIPAC. We don’t want him in Israel,” Danon exclaimed as he pushed the split within the Democratic Party over Israel.

CNN commentator Paul Begala, who was recently compelled to take a temporary leave of absence from the board of Democratic Majority for Israel, which is closely connected to AIPAC, joked at Sanders’ expense that Israel has an excellent childhood literacy program and doesn’t put dissidents in jail (because Palestinians don’t count).

Sanders, days earlier, had come under right-wing and centrist criticism for acknowledging the benefits of Fidel Castro’s literacy campaigns in Cuba at the same time that many Americans were busy trying to uphold Jim Crow segregation in the South.

Mike Bloomberg, the only Democratic presidential aspirant to appear in person at the conference, said that Sanders is “dead wrong” for calling AIPAC a racist platform. He then added, “AIPAC doesn’t fuel hatred. AIPAC works to combat it – and the violence that it can produce.”

Bloomberg announced Wednesday he is dropping out of the race and endorsing Biden.

With Bloomberg now out, the looming question is whether Warren will stay in or leave the race with a possible endorsement of Sanders. Presidential rivals Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg both dropped out shortly after the South Carolina primary and endorsed Biden, contributing to Sanders’ campaign – which I support – taking a serious body blow on Super Tuesday.

More accusations

Vice President Mike Pence accused Sanders of “smearing” Israel. In fact, Sanders recently criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a “reactionary racist” and took AIPAC to task for providing a platform for bigotry of the sort plainly evident not just from Netanyahu but from speakers such as Pastor Myles Holmes.

Sanders, however, has repeatedly expressed overall pro-Israel sentiment and failed to note that racism isn’t just a problem of Netanyahu, but of much of the Israeli voting public. He’s been very cautious in an environment where the least criticism related to Israel continues to set one apart. That said, he remains stronger on Palestinian rights than Biden or Warren.

Pence also announced it is “the position of the United States government that anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism.”

This essentially dismisses as anti-Semitic any Palestinian description of the injustice and tragedy that befell them and their relatives as a result of the founding of the Israeli state in Palestine.

It’s absurd that a Palestinian – or anyone else – speaking out against ethnic cleansing and dispossession should be considered an anti-Semite by the US government. To be Palestinian and be willing to speak out is now to be defined as a bigot by right-wing racists seeking to wordsmith Palestine-related human rights activism into oblivion.

It was striking that no Democrats came to Netanyahu’s defense in the South Carolina debate when Sanders called him a “reactionary racist.” In Democratic circles at the national level presidential candidates now realize that leaping to the Likud leader’s defense is a loser – and at odds with the facts.

But Eliot Engel, chairman of the House of Representatives’ foreign affairs committee, remains ready to defend military aid to Israel. He argued Monday that “conditioning aid to Israel has to be just about the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.”

He added, “Anybody who talks about conditioning aid doesn’t get my vote.”

Does this mean, congressman, that should Sanders or Warren get the Democratic nomination you’ll sit it out or vote for the racist Donald Trump?

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I just watched a movie about Palestine (Israel) called "Solidarity." Begala is in error. There definitely are jailed Israeli dissidents there. Many young Israelis have refused to serve in the so-called Israeli Defense Force. They have been jailed for varying amounts of time. Here's the link to the Solidarity movie: Solidarity: Five Largely Unknown Truths about Israel, Palestine and the Occupied Territories
https://youtu.be/Tz5x5AClBBA

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Sanders is getting the Corbyn treatment, although in the present instance we're not likely to see the use of any one particular form of slander- this despite Aipac and the Lobby's weighing in just now. That exercise in mass distraction isn't applicable against Sanders, and no one point of attack will be enough to wear him and his supporters down, not least because Corbyn faced years of an organized, single-minded campaign while the American election cycle operates on a tighter schedule. But the similarities are nevertheless striking. Both figures were determined to be unacceptable by those in control of the parties they sought to lead, by the economic elite, and the corporate media. In Sanders' case, this aspect is if anything more blatant since the incendiary charge of antisemitism lacks the effective force against him that it had in Britain. It's clearer in the US what this fight is about- the reasons for the DNC's opposition to a progressive candidate aren't disguised by phony charges. In a sense, then, you could say that the establishment in America is playing a more honest game. They're trying to block Sanders' path because they hate and fear what he stands for, and they're openly using every tactic available to achieve their aims. There's no high-minded cant of the sort we saw from the Guardian, the Board of Deputies, and the BBC. It really does come down to naked corruption and manipulation of vote counts. At least people won't be able to draw the wrong inferences from this business. It's happening in plain sight.

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Mike Pence displays his ignorance. How would he respond to this: "Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English or France to the French. It is wrong and inhuman to impose the Jews on the Arabs...Surely it would be a crime against humanity to reduce the proud Arabs so that Palestine can be restored to the Jews partly or wholly as their national home." Gandhi. Is this anti-Semitism? It is most definitely anti-Zionism. Gandhi, the great fighter for national self-determination wasn't fooled by the Zionist claim to messianic entitlement. He was no enemy of religion informing politics, but he saw the dishonesty of the Zionist use of the Bible. "The cry for the national home for the Jews does not make much appeal to me," said Gandhi. "Why should they not, like other peoples of the earth make that country their home where they are born and where they earn their livelihood?" The Israeli State claims it is the home of all the world's Jews. Are all the Jews of the US citizens of Israel? Of course not. Such is the slippery thinking which underpins the Zionist case. The crucial point is that the drive for a homeland for the Jews has always embraced a kernel of anti-Semitism. Ridding Europe of its Jewish population was inherent to the Christian Zionism which predated Zionism itself. Pence's statement is too ignorant and thoughtless to be taken seriously. It's the glib idiocy of interest, the blank denial of principle. Like Ben-Gurion who could see nothing immoral in forced transfer of Palestinians (because he couldn't set principle above interest) so Pence conflates principled criticism of Israeli injustice with hatred of Jews. The Zionists always claimed that Palestinian resistance was nothing more than anti-Semitism. They have cried wolf for a very long time. Most of the world knows the difference between racism and due exposure of brutality and oppression.

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Michael F. Brown

Michael F. Brown is an independent journalist. His work and views have appeared in The International Herald Tribune, TheNation.com, The San Diego Union-Tribune, The News & Observer, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Washington Post and elsewhere.