UPDATE: Presidential candidate and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders will not attend the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference due to his campaign schedule, but he promised to submit the speech he would have given had he been able to attend. He is the only presidential hopeful that will not attend the conference.
Sanders wrote the following in a letter to AIPAC President Robert Cohen:
Unfortunately, I am going to be traveling throughout the West and the campaign schedule that we have prevents me from attending.
Since AIPAC has chosen not to permit candidates to address the conference remotely, the best that I can do is to send you a copy of the remarks that I would have given if I was able to attend. We should be able to get that speech to you on Monday. Any help that you could give us in getting those remarks out to your members would be much appreciated.
AIPAC invited all active Republican and Democratic presidential candidates to participate in the conference,which is scheduled from March 20-22 in Washington D.C. Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, John Kasich and Ted Cruz will all make appearances.
According to the Sanders Campaign, his absence from the conference is because of a scheduling conflict and said nothing about journalist Max Blumenthal’s petition on Change.org urging him to decline the invitation.
“AIPAC has invited Bernie Sanders to participate in its 2016 Policy Conference in Washington DC. Voice your support for justice and equality in Israel-Palestine and urge [Sanders] to reject this invitation. 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” the petition states. “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. Urge him to reject AIPAC’s invitation and support justice in the Holy Land.”
According to its website, AIPAC’s policy conference “is the largest gathering of America’s pro-Israel community.” AIPAC is an American lobby group that advocates for Congress to support pro-Israeli policies.
The Sanders, Clinton, Cruz, Kasich and Trump campaigns did not respond to Palestine in America’s request for comment. AIPAC also did not respond to a request for comment.
Religious leaders, academics, and public officials from Israel and the United States will address the attendees. Other notable speakers include Vice President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who will speak via satellite. There are over thirty members of the U.S. Congress who are listed as confirmed speakers.
The list of speakers also includes Ali Abu Awwad, who is Palestinian. Awwad is the founder of Taghyeer (Change) National Palestinian Nonviolence Movement and is the co-founder of Roots, an Israeli-Palestinian grassroots initiative. According to its website, Roots focuses on transforming relationships between Palestinians and Israelis.
“At Roots we envision a social and political reality that is founded on dignity, trust and a mutual recognition and respect for both people’s historic belonging to the entire Land” the website says. “Through our work we are fostering a grassroots movement of understanding, nonviolence, and transformation among Israelis and Palestinians.”
Al-Awda, the Palestinian Right to Return Coalition and Act Now to Stop War and End Racism Coalition (A.N.S.W.E.R.) are hosting a national march to support Palestine and oppose AIPAC’s conference on Sunday at noon.
Protesters will march to the Washington Convention Center, followed by a “very unique” lineup of speakers including Dr. Cornel West, Diana Buttu, Susan Abulhawa and Linda Sarsour. Doc Jazz, Nisreen Hajaj and Amer Zahr will follow the speakers, for entertainment.
“Over the past years, organizations have protested AIPAC for many different reasons. This year, Al-Awda wanted to make it evident that we’re not just protesting AIPAC, we’re supporting Palestine loud and clear,” Abbas Hamideh, co-founder of Al-Awda, told PiA in January.