Former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) said Wednesday that they will not attend the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference next week, joining Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) in skipping what was, until now, a rite of passage for presidential candidates from both parties.
The only candidate attending AIPAC thus far is former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg.
Klobuchar is considered a “moderate” in general and on the issue of Israel in particular, saying last year that she would not reverse President Donald Trump’s decision to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Israel’s capital, Jerusalem.
Buttigieg took pro-Israel positions until he ran for president, when he began promising to pressure Israel by cutting American aid, and started criticizing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu openly on social media.
Now both have joined Sanders and Warren in staying away from AIPAC, the Times of Israel noted Wednesday, handing a victory to anti-Israel groups that have pressured Democratic candidates on social media, using the hashtag “#SkipAIPAC.” One of the groups described Klobuchar and Buttigieg’s decision as a “watershed.”
Bloomberg has opposed the leftward drift of his party on Israel, notably flying to Tel Aviv on Israel’s El Al airline during the 2014 war against Hamas in protest against President Barack Obama’s decision to stop U.S. carriers from flying there. The Obama administration decision was widely viewed as excessive and an effort to pressure Israel.
However, even Bloomberg offered only lukewarm support for Israel on the debate stage in South Carolina on Tuesday night, saying that the U.S. should have extracted concessions from Israel for moving the embassy to Jerusalem — a move that had already been mandated by Congress, and which had been the bipartisan policy of every administration for the last two decades. (No elected Democrats attended the embassy opening in 2018.)
Sanders attacked AIPAC viciously on Sunday, accusing it of providing a platform for “bigotry,” without explaining what he meant. At the debate, he dodged a question about his comment, and his surrogates struggled to explain it in the spin room after the debate. (Sanders did, however, manage to call Netanyahu a “reactionary racist” onstage.)
Almost every Democratic presidential candidate skipped AIPAC’s conference in 2019, as well, though that was a non-election year, and several candidates met with AIPAC activists privately. Most of the candidates attended the conference of J Street — a radical, George Soros-backed group that often opposes Israeli actions against terrorism.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News and the host of Breitbart News Sunday on Sirius XM Patriot on Sunday evenings from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. PT). He earned an A.B. in Social Studies and Environmental Science and Public Policy from Harvard College, and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.