Omar controversies shadow Dems at AIPAC

Democratic divisions are on full display this year as the pro-Israel lobby begins its annual policy conference in Washington.

The annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference, which kicks off Sunday, will offer an opportunity for Democratic lawmakers to show their support for Israel amid a growing willingness on the left to criticize the top U.S. ally.

Democratic congressional leaders scheduled to speak at this week’s conference, including Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiCalifornia Democrat in swing district calls for Trump impeachment inquiry California Democrat in swing district calls for Trump impeachment inquiry Overnight Defense: US to send 1K more troops to Mideast amid Iran tensions | Iran threatens to break limit on uranium production in 10 days | US accuses Iran of 'nuclear blackmail' | Details on key defense bill amendments MORE (Calif.), House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerThe case for congressional pay raises Approve USMCA before it's too late Lawmakers push to permanently ban automatic pay raises for members of Congress MORE (Md.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerEx-state senator in North Carolina enters race against Tillis Ex-state senator in North Carolina enters race against Tillis Election security bills face GOP buzzsaw MORE (N.Y.), will face lingering tensions after spending recent weeks grappling with newcomers questioning the alliance and sparking accusations of anti-Semitism.

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The event comes in the aftermath of controversy stirred over comments from freshman Rep. Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarOmar blasts Trump's comment about accepting foreign campaign dirt as 'un-American' Omar blasts Trump's comment about accepting foreign campaign dirt as 'un-American' Hillicon Valley: Hacker group targeted electric grid | House Democrats press CBP over facial recognition program | Senators offer bill to protect health data | Groups file FCC complaint over carriers' use of location data MORE (D-Minn.) criticizing the pro-Israel lobby that were widely condemned as anti-Semitic.

Omar has been on the defensive since she referenced AIPAC in a tweet last month that suggested U.S. lawmakers defending Israel were motivated by money. Most recently, she has faced criticism for saying, "I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is OK for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country."

Omar's latest comments led to the House passing a resolution condemning hatred, including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. The resolution, which did not mention Omar by name, was originally intended to condemn anti-Semitism alone.

Freshman Rep. Max RoseMax RoseFreshman Democrats call on McConnell to hold vote on election reform bill Freshman Democrats call on McConnell to hold vote on election reform bill The Hill's Morning Report - 2020 Dems make last dash for debate stage MORE (D-N.Y.) apologized to his Jewish constituents during a district town hall last week for Omar's rhetoric, which he had already publicly condemned.

"As a young congressman, I’ve got to tell you I’m sorry," Rose said, according to Jewish Insider.

"You sent me to Congress to take responsibility. You sent me to Congress to have your back," said Rose, who is also Jewish. "And I failed you. Because I know that Congresswoman Ilhan Omar’s comments really caused you all a lot of pain by bringing up anti-Semitic tropes."

President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump says 'Failing New York Times' should be held 'fully accountable' over Russia report Trump says 'Failing New York Times' should be held 'fully accountable' over Russia report Trump tweets ICE will begin removing 'millions' of undocumented migrants MORE has sought to sow Democratic divisions by arguing that the party is anti-Jewish, citing Omar’s remarks and, most recently, the decision of some 2020 Democrats to skip the AIPAC conference.

Trump said Democrats’ response to Omar’s remarks demonstrated the party is “anti-Jewish,” claiming Jews are leaving the party en masse.

The president renewed his attacks Friday in response to a number of 2020 Democrats deciding to skip the AIPAC conference, telling reporters, “I don’t know what’s happened to them, but they are totally anti-Israel.”

“Frankly, I think they’re anti-Jewish,” he said.

Several Democratic presidential contenders said they would not attend this year's AIPAC conference, including Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersTrump hits polling on Fox News: 'Something weird going on at Fox' Trump hits polling on Fox News: 'Something weird going on at Fox' 2020 Democrats look to cut into Biden's lead with black voters MORE (I-Vt.), Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisTrump hits polling on Fox News: 'Something weird going on at Fox' Trump hits polling on Fox News: 'Something weird going on at Fox' 2020 Democrats look to cut into Biden's lead with black voters MORE (Calif.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenTrump hits polling on Fox News: 'Something weird going on at Fox' Trump hits polling on Fox News: 'Something weird going on at Fox' 2020 Democrats look to cut into Biden's lead with black voters MORE (Mass.), Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandOvernight Health Care: Democrats attack after Trump revives talk of ObamaCare replacement | Cruz, Ocasio-Cortez efforts on birth control face major obstacles | CVS investing M to fight teen e-cig use Overnight Health Care: Democrats attack after Trump revives talk of ObamaCare replacement | Cruz, Ocasio-Cortez efforts on birth control face major obstacles | CVS investing M to fight teen e-cig use Trump's 2020 campaign strategy is to be above the law MORE (N.Y.) and Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharOvernight Defense: US to send 1K more troops to Mideast amid Iran tensions | Iran threatens to break limit on uranium production in 10 days | US accuses Iran of 'nuclear blackmail' | Details on key defense bill amendments Overnight Defense: US to send 1K more troops to Mideast amid Iran tensions | Iran threatens to break limit on uranium production in 10 days | US accuses Iran of 'nuclear blackmail' | Details on key defense bill amendments Overnight Health Care: Democrats attack after Trump revives talk of ObamaCare replacement | Cruz, Ocasio-Cortez efforts on birth control face major obstacles | CVS investing M to fight teen e-cig use MORE (Minn.); former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas); South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg; Washington Gov. Jay Inslee; and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro.

The announcements came the same week that liberal group MoveOn urged Democrats running for president to skip the annual AIPAC conference, while the left-leaning Jewish advocacy group J Street called for denouncing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's policies and "enabling of right-wing extremism."

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AIPAC has contrasted with Democratic positions in the past, including the international accord to curb Iran's nuclear program, which Trump later abandoned. Some progressives view the group as being aligned with Trump and Netanyahu.

Pro-Israel Democrats, meanwhile, plan to make a show of force at the AIPAC gathering beginning Sunday. Pelosi, Schumer, Hoyer and the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezThere is a severe physician shortage and it will only worsen Democrats ask Fed to probe Trump's Deutsche Bank ties Ending the Cyprus arms embargo will increase tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean MORE (N.J.), are among the headline speakers at the general session. Hoyer, long a staunch supporter of Israel, plans to reaffirm the common democratic ideals of the U.S. and Israel as well as the threats posed by Iran, according to his office.

But Hoyer also plans to reject the notion of dual loyalty among Americans who support Israel. That will follow accusations from Jewish Democratic lawmakers that Omar trafficked in anti-Semitic tropes about dual loyalty.

"He will argue there should be no confusion about Americans who support Israel — they do so out of patriotism for the United States and its ideals," Hoyer spokeswoman Annaliese Davis said.

Additional Democrats slated to appear at the AIPAC conference include House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelOvernight Defense: Latest on House defense bill markup | Air Force One, low-yield nukes spark debate | House Dems introduce resolutions blocking Saudi arms sales | Trump to send 1,000 troops to Poland Overnight Defense: Latest on House defense bill markup | Air Force One, low-yield nukes spark debate | House Dems introduce resolutions blocking Saudi arms sales | Trump to send 1,000 troops to Poland Bipartisan House bill seeks to punish Burma for genocide MORE (N.Y.) and House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem JeffriesHakeem Sekou JeffriesDems eye repeal of Justice rule barring presidential indictments Dems eye repeal of Justice rule barring presidential indictments Dem committees win new powers to investigate Trump MORE (N.Y.) as well as Reps. Ted DeutchTheodore (Ted) Eliot DeutchDems eye repeal of Justice rule barring presidential indictments Dems eye repeal of Justice rule barring presidential indictments Overnight Health Care: Democratic bill would require insurance to cover OTC birth control | House Dems vote to overturn ban on fetal tissue research | New rule aims to expand health choices for small businesses MORE (Fla.), Josh GottheimerJoshua (Josh) GottheimerBipartisan bill would enable companies to defend themselves against cyberattacks Bipartisan bill would enable companies to defend themselves against cyberattacks Hillicon Valley: Facebook won't remove doctored Pelosi video | Trump denies knowledge of fake Pelosi videos | Controversy over new Assange charges | House Democrats seek bipartisan group on net neutrality MORE (N.J.) and Rose.

Activists say that the increasing polarization when it comes to U.S.-Israel policy is rooted in Netanyahu's right-wing policies and embrace of Trump. Efforts by Netanyahu — and AIPAC — to defeat the nuclear deal with Iran under President Obama in 2015, they say, accelerated the shift among liberals. They also argue that AIPAC has neglected to condemn anti-Semitic comments from Republicans.

"They are clearly a much more partisan group," Iram Ali, campaign director at MoveOn, said of AIPAC, adding that it's "untenable" for progressives to align themselves with the group.

Netanyahu is slated to address the AIPAC conference on Tuesday and meet with Trump at the White House during his visit to Washington.

The meeting will come days after Trump delivered a diplomatic win for Netanyahu on Thursday when he said the U.S. should recognize Israeli control of the disputed Golan Heights territory, which is located between Israel and Syria.

Netanyahu's rival, former general and Israeli army chief Benny Gantz, also will speak at the AIPAC conference, just weeks before Gantz and Netanyahu face off in their country's elections on April 9. Netanyahu faces a tough reelection bid following multiple corruption indictments.

Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of J Street, stopped short of calling for boycotting the AIPAC conference but urged Democrats who attend to speak out against Netanyahu's right-wing policies.

"To be true to your constituency and to be true to your values, you need to speak out at AIPAC about what is going wrong in the U.S.-Israel relationship," Ben-Ami said. "The responsibility for the partisanship and division that now exists on Israel in American politics rests squarely at the feet of the prime minister."

But CREDO Action, another progressive group, urged Pelosi and Schumer, as well as New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, to cancel their appearances at the AIPAC gathering.

CREDO Action also praised Omar for offering criticism of U.S.-Israel policy, saying in a statement that "Rep. Ilhan Omar deserves our deep gratitude for her courage in raising these issues and shifting the conversation more broadly."

"For too long, Democratic politicians have been reluctant to offer any criticism of the Israeli government, sweeping under the rug truly unconscionable injustices simply because it was politically unpalatable to do otherwise," said Heidi Hess, CREDO Action's co-director.

Read more from The Hill: 

Five things to watch as AIPAC conference kicks off