Sen. Bernie Sanders last week became the highest-profile figure to say that he would be boycotting the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual Policy Conference — spurring many on social media to celebrate the success of a #SkipAIPAC publicity campaign, while allies of the lobby group pushed back with their own hashtag, #AIPACproud.
Even before Sanders announced he would be missing the conference, a collection of progressive organizations, including MoveOn, Indivisible, the Working Families Party and the Jewish group IfNotNow, had started a boycott-AIPAC effort, citing Islamophobic and otherwise objectionable speakers that the conference had hosted in the past.
While Sanders did not mention that campaign specifically, he did provide similar reasoning for his planned absence:
The Israeli people have the right to live in peace and security. So do the Palestinian people. 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. 1/2— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) February 23, 2020
Some on the Jewish left expressed support for Sanders’ decision, as did non-Jewish surrogates like Rep. Ilhan Omar — who was accused of anti-Semitism last year when she claimed that AIPAC paid politicians to be pro-Israel (AIPAC does not donate directly to candidates but its members do.)
“Being in the room” is analogous to legitimation of all present. Our leadership shouldn’t be legitimizing these people, nor should they be criticizing those who refuse to. #SkipAIPAC 4/4— Rabbi Andy Kahn (@rabbiandykahn) February 25, 2020
My top choice @ewarren committed to #SkipAIPAC first, but @SenSanders does deliver an explicit statement as to why. This was worth the wait.
GO ZAYDIE GO 🤩 https://t.co/hVjpP3Haok— Caroline Morganti (@ctmorganti) February 23, 2020
In response, AIPAC called Sanders’ comments “odious” and an “outrageous attack,” noting that thousands of Americans, including fellow Democratic elected officials, were proud to associate with the lobby.
An #AIAPCproud hashtag soon emerged, promoted by defenders of the advocacy organization, including leaders of several other large Jewish organizations, as well as politicians and activists:
Honored and proud to be attending my twentieth @AIPAC policy conference this year. Join me and the pro-Israel majority to strengthen, protect and promote the U.S.-Israel relationship to enhance the security of the United States and Israel. #AipacProudpic.twitter.com/0KK9nolGO5— William Daroff (@Daroff) February 24, 2020
I’ve been involved with @AIPAC since I was in high school. Sad to see @BernieSanders statement on us.PC has always been a diverse, welcoming place! As a liberal, jew&Latina I will continue supporting a strong US-Israel relationship&caring about Palestinians too I’m #AIPACProud 💙 https://t.co/np1LwuosOj— (((Rep.Alma Hernandez))) (@almaforarizona) February 24, 2020
AIPAC then used the hashtag to promote the unveiling of its guest speakers list — and came in for more criticism when it highlighted the expected presence of Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, who during the 1990s oversaw Yugovslavian President Slobodan Milosevic’s propaganda efforts during the ethnic cleansing of the Kosovo War, and said a few days after the massacre of thousands of Muslims in Srebrenica, “For every Serb killed, we will kill 100 Muslims.” (Vucic said those remarks were taken out of context.)
Interesting. I assume the topic of his talk will be “The Genocide in Bosnia and Crimes Against Humanity in Kosovo and Why I Deny Them”? https://t.co/L7uEgQcVNc— Jasmin Mujanović (@JasminMuj) February 25, 2020
I mean, diplomacy is diplomacy so there’s no reason Israel as a nation shouldn’t have strong relations with Serbia, or for Netanyahu to have bilaterals w Vucic, but why exactly is he speaking at the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee convention?— Chris Hayes (@chrislhayes) February 25, 2020
(Full disclosure: I interned for AIPAC for a college semester, and Forward editor-in-chief Jodi Rudoren will be speaking at the conference.)
People urged to #skipaipac - or say they’re #aipacproud