Former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg on Monday pledged to support Israel’s security and constrain Iran’s nuclear program at the annual pro-Israel AIPAC summit in Washington, while also criticizing Sen. Bernie Sanders for boycotting the annual event, which has been a lightning rod in the 2020 Democratic primary.
Bloomberg was the only 2020 Democratic presidential candidate to attend the American Israel Public Affairs Committee Conference in Washington, a move criticized by progressives and some Democrats not aligned with the group's views.
“I can’t tell you how glad I am to be at AIPAC,” he said. "Israel is small, we know, but resilient, and surrounded by adversaries. And if you caught the last couple of presidential debates you know that I can empathize."
Sanders declined to attend this year’s conference – he called it a platform for “leaders who express bigotry” – and referred to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a “reactionary racist” in last week’s debate.
“He’s dead wrong,” Bloomberg said of Sanders.
If Not Now, a progressive group that describes itself as working to “end our community’s support for the occupation” of Palestine, pressured the 2020 Democratic field to skip the annual event. Former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Amy Klobuchar will address the conference by video.
At the summit, Bloomberg called for strong bipartisan support for Israel in U.S. politics. “Israel should never be a political football that American politicians kick around in an effort to score political points,” he said.
Bloomberg also condemned the rising number of anti-Semitic attacks in the U.S., and noted his own personal connection to the uptick: his sister attended the Pittsburgh synagogue targeted in a mass shooting in 2018 when she lived in the city.
He promised to “never impose” conditions on military aid to Israel, and praised the move of the American Embassy to Jerusalem without mentioning President Donald Trump's decision to make that happen.
But he also criticized Trump’s decision to walk away from the Iran nuclear deal, saying it was "tantamount to giving Iran permission to relaunch its nuclear program,” and vowing to work with allies to constrain Iran’s nuclear efforts.
Bloomberg took another implicit attack at Trump, touting his support for the effort to build a mosque and Islamic community center in New York City near Ground Zero, which then-businessman Donald Trump loudly opposed.
The former mayor also attacked the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (BDS) and criticism of Israel from the left, telling the conference that "At a time when some try to make strong supporters of Israel feel unwelcome in social justice conversations, your refusal to be intimidated reminds us of the courage and integrity that we need in our political discourse."
Bloomberg spoke to the conference of the day of Israel's third general election in less than a year. Netanyahu is vying for a fifth term in office, running against the centrist Benny Gantz.
ABC News' Jack Arnholz contributed to this report.