Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders said Sunday he will not attend the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference in Washington.
On Twitter, the Vermont senator accused the lobbying group of providing a platform to leaders who "express bigotry" against the Palestinian people.
“The Israeli people have the right to live in peace and security. So do the Palestinian people,” Sanders tweeted. “I remain concerned about the platform AIPAC provides for leaders who express bigotry and oppose basic Palestinian rights. For that reason I will not attend their conference.”
In response, AIPAC released a statement slamming the Vermont Senator, calling his comments "outrageous."
"Senator Sanders has never attended our conference and that is evident from his outrageous comment," AIPAC said.
In fact, many of his own Senate and House Democratic colleagues and leaders speak from our platform to the over 18,000 Americans from widely diverse backgrounds - Democrats, Republicans, Jews, Christians, African Americans, Hispanic Americans, progressives, Veterans, students, members of the LGBTQ+ community - who participate in the conference to proclaim their support for the US-Israel relationship."
"By engaging in such an odious attack on this mainstream, bipartisan American political event, Senator Sanders is insulting his very own colleagues and the millions of Americans who stand with Israel. Truly shameful," the group added.
The annual AIPAC Conference is scheduled to take place in Washington D.C. on March 1-4.
Out of all the Democratic candidates running for president, Sanders has been the most outspoken on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, calling for an “even-handed” approach more sympathetic to the Palestinian cause.
That has included openly considering cutting American aid to Israel to pressure the nation to curb its settlement enterprise, enter peace talks with the Palestinians and improve the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
“I would use the leverage of $3.8 billion,” he said last October. “It is a lot of money, and we cannot give it carte blanche to the Israeli government, or for that matter to any government at all. We have a right to demand respect for human rights and democracy.”
Sanders, who is Jewish, has long ties to Israel. He spent months living on a kibbutz in the 1960s — an experience he has cited in the past to affirm his commitment to Israel’s security.
“I am very proud to be Jewish and look forward to being the first Jewish president,” he said at a J Street conference in October 2019. “I spent many months on a kibbutz in Israel. I believe absolutely not only in the right of Israel to exist but the right to exist in peace and security. That’s not a question.”
“But what I also believe,” he continued, “is the Palestinian people have a right to live in peace and security as well.”
News agencies contributed to this report