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Mike Bloomberg will speak at AIPAC after Bernie Sanders rebuked group for 'bigotry'

Sanders' announcement had stirred debate over pro-Israel group and whether Democrats should embrace it
Bloomberg has been a staunch supporter of Israel (Reuters)
By in
Washington

Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg will address the AIPAC conference in Washington early next month, becoming the first Democratic presidential candidate to confirm attending the pro-Israel event.

AIPAC confirmed that Bloomberg will be speaking at its event late on Tuesday, three days after the leading candidate in the Democratic field, Senator Bernie Sanders, said he will skip the conference. 

Sanders' announcement had stirred a debate over the pro-Israel group and whether Democrats should embrace it.

"The Israeli people have the right to live in peace and security. So do the Palestinian people," Sanders wrote on Twitter on Sunday.

'Proudly speaking at AIPAC is in line with Bloomberg's outrageous campaign strategy. No other candidate should join him there'

- IfNotNow

"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."

AIPAC, formally known as the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee, rejected the senator's statement calling his stance "shameful".

The rise of Bloomberg

Bloomberg, who has been a staunch supporter of Israel, will be joining top Democrats and Republicans at AIPAC, including Vice President Mike Pence and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, along with dozens of Congress members.

Still, the group has faced backlash from some Democrats, who questioned its claim of being bipartisan, recently - with one congresswoman calling it a "hate group".

AIPAC had run ads attacking Democratic lawmakers critical of Israel, whom it said were antisemitic and "maybe more sinister" than the Islamic State group.

The posts featured Muslim-American congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, along with Minnesota Democrat Betty McCollum who had introduced a bill to prevent US aid to Israel from contributing to the imprisonment of Palestinian children.

"AIPAC claims to be a bipartisan organisation, but its use of hate speech actually makes it a hate group," McCollum said earlier this month.

"By weaponising antisemitism and hate to silence debate, AIPAC is taunting Democrats and mocking our core values."

The congresswoman also started the hashtag #StopAIPACsHate to denounce the group.

On Monday, she praised Sanders and his fellow presidential candidate Senator Elizabeth Warren for skipping the conference.

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"Human rights = Palestinian rights, rights for Israelis, and rights for all. Let’s work for peace, justice, & equality. #StopAIPACsHate," she wrote on Twitter.

No other presidential candidate is confirmed to be attending the conference. Bloomberg's decision appears to fall into his push to distinguish himself from Sanders and portray himself as the sole alternative to the senator.

Despite not participating in the early contest, the former mayor - fuelled by incessant TV and digital advertising funded by his own money - is rising in the polls.

But his emergence as a serious candidate has raised questions about his record in New York City. In his first presidential debate, Bloomberg faced criticism over the "stop and frisk" policy that targeted black and brown people. 

'Problematic'

Civil rights advocates have condemned him over implementing and defending an intrusive surveillance programme against New York's Muslim community.

"The NYPD's Muslim spying programme profiled people based on their ethnic origin, the types of restaurants they went to, the language they spoke or simply whether they attended a mosque," Muslim Advocates, a civil rights organisation, said in a statement earlier this month. 

"The NYPD mapped out every mosque within 100 miles of New York and even posted cameras to record who was coming and going. Yet, these massive civil rights violations resulted in no credible leads."

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The group also noted that the ex-mayor has failed to apologise for "treating countless innocent Muslims like criminals". 

Abed Ayoub, the legal director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), said an acknowledgement and apology to the Muslim community would be a first step for repairing the "harm" that Bloomberg caused, but even then, it would not entirely fix the issue.

Ayoub also denounced Bloomberg for appearing at AIPAC, calling the group "problematic".

"Throughout his career Michael Bloomberg has shown that he has no regard or value towards Muslim communities," Ayoub told MEE on Tuesday. 

"Accepting an invitation to speak at AIPAC is no surprise given that track record that he's had, which includes extensive surveillance of Muslim communities. He definitely aligns with the ideology of AIPAC."

IfNotNow, a Jewish-American group that advocates Palestinian human rights, also slammed the former mayor, describing him as a "racist billionaire".

"Proudly speaking at AIPAC is in line with Bloomberg's outrageous campaign strategy. No other candidate should join him there," IfNotNow said in a Twitter post.

AIPAC did not respond to MEE's request for comment by time of publication.