The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) will meet for its annual conference starting Sunday amid rare cracks among the two major political parties in Congress.
Senators Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris and Amy Klobuchar, as well as Beto O’Rourke, Julián Castro and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, confirmed through their campaigns they won’t be attending the AIPAC conference, Presstv Reported.
Sanders policy director Josh Orton said the senator is “concerned about the platform AIPAC is providing for leaders who have expressed bigotry and oppose a two-state solution.”
US President Donald Trump has made support for Israel a linchpin of his foreign policy and has closely embraced Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Netanyahu is flying to Washington for AIPAC weeks before he faces elections.
Trump, who will warmly welcome Netanyahu during his visit, seized on the Democrats' non-attendance, telling reporters Friday: "They are totally anti-Israel. Frankly, I think they're anti-Jewish."
Despite the president's staunch support for Israel, American Jews lean the left and only 24 percent approved of Trump's job performance in a recent survey by the Pew Research Center.
“There’s a transformation happening in the Democratic Party over Israel and US foreign policy,” said Waleed Shahid, a spokesman for Justice Democrats, a left-wing group with ties to Sanders.
An Economist/YouGov poll in September 2018 provided further evidence of the shift. Just 37 percent of Americans described Israel as “an ally,” compared with 47 percent in 2015.
"AIPAC is in a difficult position because it is supposed to be the voice of the pro-Israel community, but in reality the Jewish community as a whole is opposed to the government of Israel as well as the government of the United States," said Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of the liberal Jewish advocacy group J Street.
Some analysts say Trump's staunch support for Netanyahu has more to do with evangelical Christians, a loyal voter base who believe that the gathering of the Jews in Israel is a prerequisite for the return of Jesus.
Despite its waning power, AIPAC still wields widespread influence in Washington, with the group’s legislative goals facing little serious pushback in Congress. Israel is the largest recipient of US aid, receiving more than $3 billion in military financing in the 2018 fiscal year.
"I think it's an established fact that on Capitol Hill there is overwhelming, bipartisan support and that support is just as deep in the Democratic Party as in the Republican Party," said Jason Isaacson, who heads the Washington office of the American Jewish Committee.
Dina Badie, chair of the international studies program at Center College in Kentucky, said that AIPAC was at a "crossroads" after decades of bipartisan outreach.
She added that that Netanyahu has alienated left-leaning Americans, including Jewish Americans, with his rightward turn, while the United States has become increasingly polarized.
"AIPAC has always had a hardline approach that has been compatible with the way Netanyahu is dealing with the Palestinians, but because Netanyahu is seen as toxic in progressive circles, the fact that AIPAC is somehow aligned with Netanyahu's approach is becoming less palatable to Democrats," she said.
Among newly elected Democrats, Representative Ilhan Omar, who is Muslim, recently sparked a political firestorm in Congress with comments suggesting supporters of Israel have dual allegiances.
J Street ’s Ben-Ami said the focus on Omar was misplaced. He said the most potent form of anti-Semitism was in the “nationalism and ethno-nationalism that the president and his supporters are giving cover to.”
"The true threatening form of anti-Semitism is coming not from the left but the right. It's not just here, it's all around the world, and it's from the autocrats and ethno-nationalists that not only Trump but Netanyahu are embracing," he said.