WASHINGTON — Mike Bloomberg said in a speech Monday to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee that rival Sen. Bernie Sanders is "dead wrong" in saying the pro-Israel lobbying group gives a platform to bigotry.
The only Democratic presidential candidate to speak in person before the annual gathering of the AIPAC (Joe Biden and Amy Klobuchar made video appearances), Bloomberg was greeted with a standing ovation before detailing his opposition to the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, using U.S. military aid to pressure the Israeli government and to the United Nations imposing what he called a "double standard" on the country.
In going after Sanders, Bloomberg not only hit a leading Democratic contender, but also a candidate whose comments on the gathering and the Israeli government have been central to the event.
"Unfortunately, not all of my fellow Democrats in this race have attended an AIPAC conference," Bloomberg said. "One of them, Senator Sanders, has spent 30 years boycotting this event. And as you’ve heard by now, he called AIPAC a racist platform. Well, let me tell you, he's dead wrong."
"This is a gathering of 20,000 Israel supporters of every religious denomination, ethnicity, faith, color, sexual identity and political party," Bloomberg added. "Calling it a racist platform is an attempt to discredit those voices, intimidate people from coming here, and weaken the U.S.-Israel relationship. The reality is: AIPAC doesn't fuel hatred. AIPAC works to combat it — and the violence that it can produce. And if more elected officials spoke to the people here, they’d understand that."
During the last Democratic presidential debate, Sanders called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a "racist" who was implementing policies harmful to the Palestinians. Sanders said he is "proud of being Jewish" and added that U.S. foreign policy should be about protecting Israel while not ignoring Palestinian "suffering."
In tweets aimed at the AIPAC conference, Sanders said he is "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," he continued, adding in a second tweet, "As president, I will support the rights of both Israelis and Palestinians and do everything possible to bring peace and security to the region."
In a response, the AIPAC called Sanders' comments "insulting" and "shameful."
In his address, Bloomberg, who is also Jewish, said that "strong supporters" of Israel "don't need to agree with everything an Israeli government does — I certainly don't."
"And as proud patriots of America, we do not need to support everything our government does either — again, I definitely don't," he said. "Differences of opinion are healthy — even on big issues."
On an Israeli/Palestinian peace plan, Bloomberg said he supports a two-state solution "through direct negotiations."
"Because Israel must remain a prosperous, secure and stable Jewish democracy and because Palestinians deserve dignity, democracy and opportunity, too," he said.
Bloomberg, a former New York City mayor, also pointed to recent instances of anti-Semitic crimes, calling it an "epidemic" and saying that "presidential leadership" was lacking in combating it.
The candidate, who first faces voters tomorrow in the Super Tuesday contests, opened his speech joking about his recent efforts in the Democratic primary debates.
“Israel is small and surrounded by adversaries," Bloomberg said. "And if you’ve caught the last couple of debates, you know that I can empathize."