A Democrat-backed effort to boycott the nation's leading pro-Israel group is gaining steam, worrying center-left advocates of the Jewish state who have been struggling in recent months to ensure their party continues to uphold the historically close U.S.-Israel relationship.
Far-left critics of Israel and its supporters in the United States have been gaining traction in the Democratic Party for some time. As young leaders such as Reps. Ilhan Omar (D., Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D., Mich.) gain increasing control of the party, anti-Israel voices once shunned by mainstream Democrats are beginning to find themselves welcomed with open arms.
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This shift was on display Thursday evening when an activist with the virulently anti-Israel IfNotNow movement got Democratic 2020 contender Elizabeth Warren to promise she would boycott this year's AIPAC conference, which has attracted top names from both parties in past years.
IfNotNow, one of the anti-Israel movement's newest leaders, has been promoting what it calls the Skip AIPAC campaign. By publicly pressuring Democratic leaders who are eager to please the party's far-left voices, IfNotNow hopes to erase prominent Democratic support for AIPAC.
"I'm an American Jew and I'm terrified by the unholy alliance that AIPAC is forming with Islamophobes and anti-Semites and white nationalists, and no Democrat should legitimize that kind of bigotry by attending their annual policy conference," an unnamed IfNotNow activist said to Warren during a town hall event in New Hampshire. "I'm really grateful that you skipped the AIPAC conference last year, and so my question is if you'll join me in committing to skip the AIPAC conference this March?"
Warren, unfazed by the demand, agreed.
"Yeah," Warren responded to much applause, according to video of the event that has been circulating online.
The candidate went on to express support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian impasse, saying that "for America to be a good ally of Israel and of the Palestinians, we need to encourage both parties to get to the negotiating table, and we're not doing that if we keep standing with one party and saying, ‘we're on your side.'"
Warren's eagerness to back the AIPAC boycott movement did not come as a surprise to mainstream pro-Israel Democrats, who say they have long been battling efforts by the party's left wing to mainstream anti-Israel causes.
One Jewish Democratic operative with ties to AIPAC told the Washington Free Beacon that IfNotNow's influence on the party is becoming increasingly problematic.
"There are many reasons for [Warren] not to attend AIPAC's Policy Conference, but getting pressured by an extremist group is not one of them," said the source, who would only discuss the matter anonymously. "IfNotNow has no place in anything close to the mainstream political discourse, including within the Democratic primary."
The push to boycott AIPAC is by no means new. Liberal advocacy groups have long viewed AIPAC as overly hawkish on Israel and out of line with the Democratic Party's evolving stance on the Jewish state. Liberal mainstays like the antiwar MoveOn group have demanded Democratic leaders boycott Israel for some time. This has dovetailed with growing support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, or BDS, which seeks to wage economic warfare on Israel.
Support for these movements has been building in the Democratic Party for years, with one of the most notable examples playing out at the 2012 convention, when a majority of Democratic conference goers audibly booed the state of Israel.
An AIPAC spokesman would not comment on the issue when contacted by the Free Beacon.
Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, said the divide between the two major parties on Israel is more severe than ever.
"Every week we see more evidence that the Democrat Party is turning its back on Israel," Brooks said in a statement after Warren said she would again boycott the AIPAC conference.
"Elizabeth Warren, who came in third in Iowa, is happy to speak to anti-Israel groups like J Street, but she told a town hall audience yesterday that she will shun AIPAC," Brooks said. "Now she is standing by while her supporters slander the bi-partisan, pro-Israel group that has a decades-long track record of bringing Democrats and Republicans together to support our ally, Israel."
Iowa caucus frontrunner Bernie Sanders has long positioned himself as an ally of the anti-Israel movement, which, in turn, has long been one of his leading backers.
"The winner of the Democrats' Iowa caucus, whether it ends up being Sanders or [Pete] Buttigieg, has spent the last year labeling the only democracy in the Middle East a human rights abuser," Brooks said. "Democrats have gone so off the rails on Israel that some of the biggest names in the party want to leverage military cooperation aid to get Israel to submit to the whims of the anti-Israel wing that now controls the Democrat Party. Clearly only one party can still call itself pro-Israel, the Republican Party."