Multiple Democratic presidential candidates have said they will not attend the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual conference in Washington next week.
Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, former US Representative Beto O’Rourke and Senator Kamala Harris of California are among the 2020 contenders who have decided not to attend.
Former Starbucks chief executive Howard Schultz, who is considering an independent bid for president, will also avoid the Aipac conference.
It comes as the liberal advocacy group MoveOn has called on Democratic presidential candidates to skip this year’s policy conference, saying Aipac had tried to thwart the Iran nuclear deal and had employed “anti-Muslim and anti-Arab rhetoric”.
By not attending, the Democratic candidates can demonstrate their progressive bona fides in an increasingly crowded 2020 field.
But it also gives President Donald Trump an opportunity to highlight his ties to the Israeli government.
As the Democrats distance themselves from Aipac, Mr Trump said on Thursday that it is time for the United States to recognise Israel’s control over the disputed Golan Heights.
Aipac declined to comment on the 2020 candidates but noted that presidential candidates have attended the conference in the past.
Indeed, several Democrats seeking the presidency, including Ms Harris, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey and Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, have spoken at the group’s annual conference before.
Mr Sanders’ policy director Josh Orton confirmed his plans and said Mr Sanders is “concerned about the platform Aipac is providing for leaders who have expressed bigotry and oppose a two-state solution”.
The intense differences among the Democratic ranks over the US-Israeli relationship came to a head last month when Democratic Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, one of the first Muslim women in Congress, insinuated that lobbyists with Aipac were paying politicians to support Israel.
Her remark drew bipartisan criticism and a rebuke from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Ms Omar ended up apologising for her comments.