Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont was the only major candidate who didn't address America's largest pro-Israel group, but said issues impacting Israel and the Middle East are of the "utmost importance" to him.
Sanders is the only Jewish candidate in the presidential race, Christianity Today noted. The candidate said his campaign schedule -- which has taken him to Utah and California on March 21 and March 22 -- prevented him from appearing at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee's annual conference in Washington, D.C.
When conference organizers decided not to allow Sanders to address attendees remotely, the Vermont senator's campaign provided copies of his intended speech to all 18,000 delegates.
In the text of his would-be speech, Sanders told delegates he believes Israel and the United States have strong cultural ties, and reiterated his support for the country's security. But the next part may not have been what delegates wanted to hear.
"To my mind, as friends – long term friends with Israel – we are obligated to speak the truth as we see it," Sanders wrote. "That is what real friendship demands, especially in difficult times."
As president, Sanders wrote, he'd "work tirelessly to advance the cause of peace," but in order to achieve that peace, he would need to be a friend to the Palestinian people as well as Israel. Citing widespread poverty, unemployment rates of more than 40 percent, and dim prospects for Palestinians, Sanders told the delegates that a fruitful peace process would involve addressing "a whole lot of suffering among Palestinians and that cannot be ignored."
"Most White House hopefuls don’t say what Sanders did in Utah," Huffington Post's Samantha Lachman wrote, "which is that Israel’s government should get serious about a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."
Sanders didn't shy away from criticizing Israeli policy, blaming Israeli leaders for the "occupation of Palestinian territory" and for the decades-long policy of annexing Palestinian land with "settlements."
His words weren't met with enthusiasm among the delegates at AIPAC's convention.
"I think it's hurtful to the Israel-supporting community and the Jewish community," said Rabbi Philip Scheim, per CNN. "It's a very significant statement and hurtful."
Others weren't surprised that Sanders decided to skip the convention.
"If he talked about his ideas, which most people here would consider too far left, you know he wouldn't win any supporters anyway," said Buffalo software architect Joseph Ennis. "So he probably correctly recognized his time would be better spent campaigning out West."