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'He's dead wrong': Bloomberg attacks Sanders over AIPAC criticism

Democratic candidate tells powerful lobby that if he wins the presidency, he will continue to oppose BDS
During his speech to AIPAC, Michael Bloomberg made a number of promises to Israel (AFP)
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Washington

US presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg slammed Bernie Sanders' opposition to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), accusing the Vermont Senator of undermining US-Israeli ties.

Sanders, who's been an outspoken critic of Israel and proponent for Palestinian rights, announced last month that he would not be attending AIPAC's annual conference because it was a platform "for leaders who express bigotry and oppose basic Palestinian rights".

In addition, Sanders took a shot at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a regular at the convention, calling him a "reactionary racist".

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Since making the remarks, the self-proclaimed democratic socialist has faced a deluge of criticism, from both AIPAC and its legion of supporters.

Netanyahu has lashed out at the senator's comments, calling them "libellous," and Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Danon, called the presidential hopeful an "ignorant fool".

"[Sanders] called AIPAC a racist platform. Well, let me tell you, he's dead wrong," Bloomberg told the conference on Monday.

Bloomberg said his Democratic opponent was attempting to sow discord and turn Israel into a partisan issue among the Democratic and Republican parties.

"Calling it a racist platform is an attempt to discredit those voices, intimidate people from coming here and weaken the US-Israel relationship," said Bloomberg, a billionaire, who is self-funding his campaign.

Bloomberg's promises to Israel

During his speech to AIPAC, Bloomberg, who currently has no delegates, made a number of pledges to Israel.

The former New York City mayor said that if he were elected president, he would never impose conditions on military aid to Israel and would keep the US embassy to Israel in Jerusalem - two issues which Sanders has said he would roll back.

"American security and Israeli security are inexplicably linked," he told the conference.

Bloomberg also said he would continue to oppose the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

Founded in 2005, the Palestinian-led movement seeks to pressure Israel to end its abuses against Palestinians through economic boycotts and other non-violent means.

"I promise to always oppose the BDS movement's tenacious efforts to delegitimise the state of Israel," Bloomberg said.

'I am not anti-Israel'

Sanders, who is leading the Democratic pack, has defended himself against the criticism, saying he's proud of his Jewish heritage and is not against Israel.

"I am not anti-Israel. I will do everything I can to protect the independence and the security and the freedom of the Israeli people," he said in an interview on CBS' Face the Nation.

"But what we need in this country is a foreign policy that not only protects Israel, but deals with the suffering of the Palestinian people as well."

While AIPAC used to be one of the most effective interest groups in the US, its power has been waning over recent years, due to the growth of the progressive flank of the Democratic Party and its adoption of the Palestinian cause as a core policy issue.

Several other top Democrats have skipped this year's conference, including Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren, who was the first presidential candidate to announce she would not make an appearance.