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AIPAC chief promises to defeat 'those who try to harm the U.S.-Israel relationship' in veiled shot at Sanders

AIPAC chief promises to defeat 'those who try to harm the U.S.-Israel relationship' in veiled shot at Sanders
© Greg Nash

The leader of one of the largest pro-Israel lobbying groups in the U.S. promised Sunday to “defeat” political movements seen as threatening the relationship between the U.S. and Israel, a veiled attack against Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersPelosi pushes for drug pricing measure amid uncertainty from White House White House sees GOP proposal as legitimate starting point The Memo: Washington's fake debate on 'bipartisanship' MORE (I-Vt.).

Howard Kohr, CEO of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), opened the organization's annual conference in Washington D.C. by issuing a stark warning to push back against “political leaders and their supporters” who call for conditions on U.S. support for Israel.

Sanders is the only candidate in the Democratic presidential race to raise the issue of conditioning military aid to Israel. 

“We face a collection of political leaders and their supporters who want to turn our political system away from Israel,” Kohr said to the 18,000 attendees at the start of the three-day conference.

“The pro-Israel community will work to defeat those who try to harm our friends, and those who try to harm the U.S.-Israel relationship.”

The shot at Sanders speaks to the lead the self-described democratic socialist has over the other Democratic presidential candidates. Despite coming in second to former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden announces picks to lead oceans, lands agencies Overnight Defense: Top general concerned about Afghan forces after US troops leave | Pentagon chief: Climate crisis 'existential' threat to US national security | Army conducts review after 4 Black soldiers harassed at Virginia IHOP Feds expect to charge scores more in connection to Capitol riot MORE in the South Carolina primaries, Sanders has proven a formidable competitor with primary wins in Nevada, New Hampshire and a tight second place in Iowa.

Sanders describes his political movement as aligning with progressive values. In foreign policy, he advocates against military intervention and in support of global diplomatic engagement.

Progressive groups critical of the U.S.-Israel relationship have pushed Democrats and Democratic presidential candidates to leverage U.S. assistance to Israel to push back on policies they view as impediments to resolving the Israeli and Palestinian conflict.

Sanders has separated himself from other Democratic presidential candidates by raising the possibility of conditioning military aid to Israel over its policies towards the Palestinians and moving the U.S. embassy back to Tel Aviv from Jerusalem as something he would “take into consideration.”

“I happen to believe that what our foreign policy in the Mideast should be about, is absolutely protecting the independence and security of Israel. But you cannot ignore the suffering of the Palestinian people,” he said last month during the Democratic presidential debate in South Carolina.

Kohr on Sunday attacked those views as misleading.  

“The leaders of this movement occasionally seek to mollify us with empty reassurances and hallow affirmations of Israel’s right to live in peace. But far too often they reveal their true beliefs,” he said.

“The leaders of these movements say they support Israel’s right to exist, but that’s not up for debate. Israel exists.”

AIPAC, which stresses its mission as ensuring bipartisan support for a strong U.S. and Israel relationship, advocates that Congress maintain $3.3 billion in foreign military financing to the Jewish State without conditions.

“America's security support for Israel should never, never be used as a bargaining chip in the US, Israel relationship,” Kohr said.  

“And we are grateful that overwhelming majorities of Democrats and Republicans in Congress have consistently supported Israel security, without conditions, and without hesitation.”

Sanders has clashed with the organization in recent days, slamming AIPAC as providing a platform to speakers who “express bigotry and oppose basic Palestinian rights.” He rejected attending the conference where nearly all other Democratic candidates have offered to provide remarks.

AIPAC responded by calling Sanders's remarks “outrageous” and “truly shameful.”

Democratic presidential candidate Senator Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenBiden plan would nearly double capital gains tax for wealthy: report Top general concerned about Afghan forces after US troops leave Progressives divided over efforts to repeal SALT cap MORE (D-Mass.), who also aligns herself with progressive the progressive wing of the party, was the only other candidate to publicly commit to skipping the AIPAC conference.

Only one Democratic presidential candidate will address the conference in person, former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, as it coincides with primary races across the U.S.

Nearly all other candidates offered pre-recorded video messages to address the conference.

Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharSharpton eulogizes Daunte Wright: 'Tags of racism' have expired Hawley votes against anti-Asian hate crime bill Tech companies duke it out at Senate hearing MORE (D-Minn.) said in her video message on Sunday that she is committed to a two-state solution to the Israeli and Palestinian conflict, security assistance to Israel and opposes efforts to delegitimize and boycott the Jewish State.

“I will never stop fighting for a strong US-Israel relationship. Period,” she said. “I am also committed to a peace process that can lead to a two state solution that allows Israelis and Palestinians to live side by side in peace and security.”

Video messages from former Vice President Joseph Biden and former mayor of South Bend, Ind., Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegBiden administration takes step toward allowing California to set its own tailpipe emissions standards Republicans unveil 8 billion infrastructure plan DOT appoints chief science officer for first time in 40 years MORE, will also air at the conference.

AIPAC has yet to announce if it has a video message from Rep. Tulsi GabbardTulsi GabbardNew co-chairs named for congressional caucus for millennials Tulsi Gabbard blasts new House rules on gender neutral language as 'height of hypocrisy' A vaccine, a Burrito and more: 7 lighter, memorable moments from 2020 MORE (D-Hawaii).