Over 4,000 thus far have signed a petition urging Vermont Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders to reject an invitation to speak at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) upcoming policy conference on 20-22 March in Washington, D.C.
AIPAC, the rightwing pro-Israel lobby group, has invited all the presidential candidates to speak at its conference. Sanders’ challengers Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have already confirmed their attendance and will be speaking alongside Vice President Joe Biden and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be notably absent from the conference, instead he will appear via satellite. Netanyahu’s decision not to appear can be explained by a diplomatic row between himself and President Obama, the latter refusing the former a $2 billion increase in funding over the next decade.
Journalist and Alternet senior editor Max Blumenthal submitted the petition on 10 March, and included among the thousands of signatories are Roger Waters, co-founder of Pink Floyd and active BDS campaigner, Israeli-American author and activist (also contributor to American Herald Tribune) Miko Peled and Palestinian-American activist and commentator Linda Sarsour.
“Voice your support for justice and equality in Israel-Palestine and urge Bernie to reject this invitation,” the petition reads. “As the main arm of the pro-Israel lobby in the United States, AIPAC has sworn to promote the racist, militaristic, and anti-democratic policies of the most right-wing government in Israel’s history. Its conference this year will feature Islamophobes, anti-immigrant activists, and religious extremists.”
Both a Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump presidency would be disastrous for the catalyzing global movement of Palestinian self-determination as well as the countless supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israeli occupation.
Clinton has pledged her support to Netanyahu’s ultranationalist, rightwing leadership as well as Israeli-American anti-BDS campaigner and mega-donor Haim Saban, who has supported Clinton’s campaign with millions in donations.
Donald Trump on the other hand has completely incoherent policy positions—Israel-Palestine is no exception.
But Sanders, while not particularly outspoken on the fate of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, has pledged to seek a “level playing field” with regards to the two.
And his career of social activism, campaigning against U.S. military bloat and anti-interventionist stances especially with regards to the Middle East suggest Sanders will be the first commander in chief to pivot in a positive direction.
A veteran of the civil rights movement, Sanders understands the intersectionality of political struggles and the inextricable link between for example the Black Lives Matter movement and Palestinian self-determination.
It is unlikely, on the other hand, that Donald Trump can pronounce intersectionality.
“… Bernie does not belong on the same stage” as Trump, Clinton and other uncritically pro-Israel figures. “Urge him to reject AIPAC’s invitation and support justice in the Holy Land,” the petition concludes.
His recent overwhelming victory in Michigan would not have been possible without the support of the large Arab-American community in the state, many of whom are vocal supporters of Sanders and his discontent with the Israel-Palestine status quo.
Sanders’ campaign did not issue a statement yet on whether he plans to attend, but it seems he can use the decision to distance himself from the establishment yet again.
He can either decline, stating that he does not agree with AIPAC’s politics and thereby putting more distance between himself and the militant Clinton or he can accept and present to the conference an alternative to the lobby’s unequivocal support for the occupation of Palestine.
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