America’s most influential pro-Israel lobby group, AIPAC is hosting its annual policy conference in Washington next week.
All the presidential candidates were invited and all will be attending, except for one: Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, who also happens to be the only Jewish candidate ever to win a presidential primary.
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Mr Sanders said he would be unable to attend because of his campaign schedule.
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“I would very much have enjoyed speaking at the AIPAC conference,” Sanders said in a letter released to AIPAC’s President Robert Cohen on Friday.
His decision not to attend happened to follow a petition campaign which was endorsed by Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters, although the Sanders campaign did not say whether it had responded to the petition
Prominent journalist Max Blumenthal, who specializes in Israel-Palestine, created a petition calling on Sanders to reject AIPAC’s invitation to its conference.
“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,” Blumenthal wrote in a description accompanying the petition. “Its conference this year will feature Islamophobes, anti-immigrant activists, and religious extremists.”
“With his promise to seek a “level playing field” on Israel-Palestine, Bernie does not belong on the same stage as these figures,” Blumenthal added.
As of Friday, the petition had more than 5,000 signatures. Musician Roger Waters, formerly of band Pink Floyd, endorsed it. Waters has established himself as a leading activist on behalf of Palestinian human rights.
The group RootsAction also disseminated the petition, and got an additional 14,000 signatures.
Salon reached out to Blumenthal, who characterized Sanders’ decision as a victory for the Palestinian human rights movement.
He emphasized the importance of garnering almost 20,000 petitions in a brief period of time, “with little media coverage, and on an issue that has been little-discussed in the debates.”
“Regardless of any spin he’s offering, I think Sanders recognized that sharing a stage with bigots at AIPAC and apartheid lobbyists would be anathema to his hardcore base of support,” Blumenthal explained.
“This is a demonstration of the growing grassroots impact of Palestine solidarity and a sign of things to come in the future: self-styled progressive politicians will be punished for supporting Israeli apartheid,” he added.