Several leading Democratic presidential candidates have decided to skip the annual conference of AIPAC, the largest pro-Israel lobby, in a decision that represents a shift in discourse on Israel.
Bernie Sanders, Beto O'Rourke, Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren, who are among the top Democratic candidates for the 2020 presidential race, said they would not attend the conference which opened in Washington on Sunday.
The Democratic candidates and others expected to run for president, including former Vice President Joe Biden, are not among AIPAC's confirmed speakers.
Progressive advocacy group MoveOn has urged presidential candidates to skip the AIPAC conference.
Citing a new internal survey, MoveOn said over 74 percent of its members agreed or strongly agreed with the statement: "Any progressive vying to be the Democratic nominee for president should skip the AIPAC conference".
Iram Ali, MoveOn’s campaign director, told London-based Middle East Eye news portal that “the clearly partisan actions of AIPAC can no longer be pushed under the rug.”
She cited the lobby's opposition to the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world countries, which was signed by former Democratic President Barack Obama.
Ali also touched on a recent United Nations report, which found that Israeli forces had committed rights violations against protesters in Gaza that “may constitute war crimes.”
Many left-wing Democrats, she said, are distancing themselves from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over his regime's involvement in human rights abuses.
Despite apparent opposition to AIPAC, several senior Democrats in Congress, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, will be speaking there.
Hatem Abudayyeh, a co-founder of the US Palestinian Community Network, an advocacy group, attributed the participation of some Democrats in the conference to pressure from the pro-Israel lobby itself, as well as the nature of US foreign policy in the Middle East.
"It's still the United States that determines foreign policy, and it's still Israel that plays the role of watchdog for the United States, for US imperialism in the Arab world," he said.
Abudayyeh noted that the "shift in discourse" on Israel within the Democratic Party "has come because of the mass movement, not because of these individual Democratic nominees."
The AIPAC conference kicked off on Sunday amid protests by Palestinian rights advocates who waved Palestinian flags outside the Washington Convention Center.
"I'm here today because it's time that the world understands what the reality is in occupied Palestine," Donna Nassor, an activist, said at the rally.
"It's been 70 plus years of incremental genocide. I'm also here because the American people need to understand what our tax dollars are doing and how it is causing suffering to Palestinians, as we support war criminals in Israel."
Nassor also said, "It's not anti-Semitic to speak up about the war crimes that are happening every day in Israel."
Before marching to the Washington Convention Center, the demonstrators gathered outside the White House, waving Palestinian flags and signs condemning the Israeli regime.
This article has been adapted from its original source.
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