A day after Bernie Sanders says he’s opting out, AIPAC flexes bipartisan support

Philissa Cramer

(JTA) — The American Israel Public Affairs Committee wants the world to know that American Jews and lawmakers from across the political spectrum support it, even if Bernie Sanders does not.

A day after Sanders, a leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, announced on Twitter that he would be skipping AIPAC’s annual conference for ideological reasons, the organization took steps Monday to showcase the bipartisan support that has long set it apart among Israel advocacy groups.

With a week before the organization’s annual conference, the organization released an expanded list of speakers — including multiple Democratic leaders who had not previously been confirmed as attending. Among the Democrats speaking will be two high-profile New York lawmakers, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, chair of the U.S. House Democratic Caucus and one of the House managers in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump.

An AIPAC spokesperson said the group had also initiated efforts to demonstrate widespread support for attending the conference, which more than 18,000 people are expected to attend.

Those efforts were available on Twitter, where #AIPACproud was trending, and in the inboxes of Jewish congregational leaders, many of whom were asked to sign onto an open letter to Sanders that emphasizes the conference’s ideological diversity.

“AIPAC is one of the last remaining vehicles in American politics that proactively seeks to bring Americans from across the political spectrum together to achieve a common goal,” the letter reads. “We embrace the opportunity to be challenged to think constructively, and appreciate that people on the other end of the political divide are doing this sacred work alongside us.”

Leaders of a diverse range of Jewish organizations — including the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League and the Reform movement — criticized Sanders and openly declared their intention to attend next week’s conference. The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, which brings together dozens of organizations of various political and religious stripes, issued a similar statement.

But in a possible sign of Sanders’ front-runner status, at least one Jewish Democratic group released a statement downplaying the issue, while avoiding any criticism of Sanders or defense of AIPAC. “Candidates should be judged on their positions, not on whether they attend any particular conference,” Halie Soifer, executive director of the Jewish Democratic Council for America, said in the statement. “JDCA will support the Democratic nominee — whomever that may be — in November, and strongly opposes the use of Israel as a political wedge issue. The U.S.-Israel relationship, has been — and must remain — a bipartisan issue.”