March 30, 2020

By Boycotting AIPAC, Sanders Hurts the Palestinians

CHARLESTON, SC - FEBRUARY 24: Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) pauses while speaking at the South Carolina Democratic Party "First in the South" dinner on February 24, 2020 in Charleston, South Carolina. South Carolina holds its Democratic presidential primary on Saturday, February 29. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

When Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) blasted the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) last Sunday while confirming he wouldn’t attend their annual conference, he probably didn’t realize he was hurting the Palestinian cause.

Sanders certainly merited the pushback he received for accusing AIPAC of promoting “leaders who express bigotry and oppose basic Palestinian rights.” Rabbi David Wolpe, for one, tweeted: “I’ve attended AIPAC more than ten times. Every time Palestinian rights were mentioned people applauded. There are a range of views presented, left, right and center. This dismissal is unwarranted and unworthy.”

My friend Sarah Tuttle Singer, who often writes in support of the Palestinian cause, posted this “Dear Bernie” message on Facebook:

“AIPAC is not monolithic.

It is a varied and multi-faceted tent encompassing all kinds of folks – including many who supported you back in 2016 and probably still support you this time around.

When I first spoke at Policy Conference, I criticized certain polices of the government of the State of Israel, talked about how we have to end the Occupation, restore justice to The Land, and how Israelis and Palestinians – Jews and Arabs – must live together in equality, freedom, and security.

I was invited back to share this message again and again and again.

You should come and see the enormous tent for yourself.”

So, yes, it was unfair for Sanders to harshly criticize a conference he has never attended.

As AIPAC noted in its response: Sanders “has never attended our conference and that is evident from his outrageous comment. 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, progressives, Veterans, students, members of the LGBTQ+ community — who participate in the conference to proclaim their support for the U.S.-Israel relationship.”

Rabbi David Wolpe, for one, tweeted: “I’ve attended AIPAC more than ten times. Every time Palestinian rights were mentioned people applauded. There are a range of views presented, left, right and center. This dismissal is unwarranted and unworthy.”

But let’s give Sanders the benefit of the doubt and grant that he really believes those things he tweeted about AIPAC. Wouldn’t it still be in his interest to use this huge platform to convey his message of equal rights for the Palestinians? Sanders has made it his lifelong mission to care for the weak and the downtrodden, often mentioning the plight of the Palestinians.

By blasting and boycotting AIPAC, he missed the opportunity to help his own cause.

Let’s do a thought experiment: Imagine if Sanders would decide to attend the conference. If he really cares about the Palestinians, I can only dream that he’d have the courage to send them this message:

“I just returned from the AIPAC policy conference. It was quite an experience. I dream of the day when you, the Palestinian people, will have your own Palestinian Policy Conference, with speakers from all sides engaging in how best to move your movement forward.

“I dream of the day when Palestinians will shed the shackles of chronic victimhood and emulate your Jewish neighbors. After my people lost 6 million in the Holocaust, we could have wallowed for a century in justified victimhood. Instead, we accepted what the United Nations gave us and, against all odds, built this flourishing country called Israel.

“I’m not diminishing your pain one bit. I’m not downplaying the difficulty of your struggle. I’m only suggesting a more constructive approach to improving your future— an approach that replaces animosity and bitterness with enlightened self-interest.

By blasting and boycotting AIPAC, he missed the opportunity to help his own cause.

“This is what I saw at the AIPAC conference. I saw plenty of love for Israel, yes, but also plenty of genuine struggle. I saw panels where speakers were challenging Israeli policies; others that dealt with the complexity of Israel’s ongoing challenges, with the imperative of resolving the Palestinian conflict, with the religious and ethnic divisions in the region, and even with Israel’s contributions to the welfare of humanity through technology and innovation.

“There’s no reason why you can’t do the same. You have the talent and the drive; all you need is the opportunity. You must demand this from your leaders. You must demand that they sit down and negotiate with Israeli leaders and make a serious counteroffer. You must demand an end to the rejection of normalized relations with Israel, which only reinforces despair, and demand to begin the long process of co-existence, which is the only path to hope.

“If you choose this path, know that I will support you every step of the way. And when you have your first Policy Conference in Washington, D.C., know that I will gladly attend.”