Bernie Sanders’ campaign announced last Friday that Sanders will not attend AIPAC’s annual policy conference. Pro-Palestine activists celebrated the news that the self-proclaimed socialist will skip the conference organized by the largest Israeli lobby in the United States– which financially energizes Israel’s occupation of Palestine by lobbying US government officials to uphold and implement pro-Israeli policies.
AIPAC, which has a history of hosting Islamophobes in its policy summits (to further Israeli interests which rely on anti-Muslim rhetoric and to expand the Zionist agenda), will gather Islamophobes, anti-immigrant activists, and befittingly, the remaining the presidential candidates – Cruz, Trump, Kaisch, and Clinton.
It was first assumed that Sanders turned down the invitation because of a petition crafted by Max Blumenthal, author of The 51 Day War: Ruin and Resistance in Gaza. The petition, written on change.org, urged Sanders to reject the invitation because of AIPAC’s mission “to promote the racist, militaristic, and anti-democratic policies of the most right-wing government in Israel’s history.”
Garnering over 5,000 signatures, the petition, however, wasn’t what prompted Sanders to skip the conference. According to a letter penned by Sanders to Robert Cohen, the president of AIPAC, Sanders will be absent because of a campaign scheduling conflict. Sanders wrote, “I would very much have enjoyed speaking at the AIPAC conference… Unfortunately, I am going to be traveling throughout the West and the campaign schedule that we have prevents me from attending.”
Sanders wished to address the gathering via video but his offer was turned down by the conference’s organizers, who apparently just changed their policy regarding addressing speeches through video.
Robert Mackey, writing for The Intercept, reported that the pro-Israel group previously permitted former presidential candidates, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, to address the conference via video in 2012 (adding that Gingrich’s appearance was notable because he was caught sleeping on camera).
Mackey suggested that AIPAC might have not wanted Sanders to speak given his recent public promise to seek a neutral, or “level playing field,” approach on Israel-Palestine.
But is Sanders really neutral or even marginally pro-Palestine?
- Not quite.
Overall, the Vermont senator has maintained a relatively vague foreign policy focusing instead on progressive domestic policies regarding economic reform, education and student loans, healthcare, and social equality.
In an article written for The Huffington Post, Zahra Haider and Naib Mian argue that Sanders’ stance on Israel-Palestine does not align with his other leftist policies. They write that,
“[Sanders’ view on Israel-Palestine is] characteristic of mainstream Democrats who occasionally critique controversial Israeli policies that may undermine America’s stated interests, but otherwise remain silent regarding Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.”
Sanders, however, is critical of Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. He did not attend the right-wing leader’s speech to a joint session of Congress back in 2015.
FeeltheBern.org claims that Sanders believes in a two-state solution, “where ‘Israel has a right to exist in security, and at the same time the Palestinians have a state of their own.'” The website also maintains that despite Sanders’ Jewish heritage, he does not favor Israel over the Palestinians.
Converse to Sanders’ seemingly neutral stance on Israel-Palestine, his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, has avowed a staunch pro-Israel stance that supports Netanyahu, who saw the largest illegal settlement expansion under his administration than any other Israeli Prime Minister.
I have often wondered if neutrality is any good. To me, it seems that neutrality breeds and perpetuates oppression. It empowers the oppressor and disenfranchises the oppressed. It flattens the conflict to equate both sides, normalizing it for fear of upsetting the powerful upper hand. Although we know all too well that the Israel-Palestine situation is not remotely even, rather the occupying force is more potent and more brutal.
Sanders may be neutral, but after all what has “neutrality” brought Palestinians except failed diplomacy, statelessness, more occupation, more illegal settlements, and more dehumanization in their own land.