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 PelosiTrump knocks testimony from 'Never Trumpers' at Louisiana rally Jordan calls Pelosi accusing Trump of bribery 'ridiculous' USMCA deal close, but not 'imminent,' Democrats say MORE (Calif.), House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton Hoyer Hoyer calls GOP efforts to out whistleblower 'despicable' Live coverage: House holds first public impeachment hearing Congress hunts for path out of spending stalemate MORE (Md.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerOvernight Health Care: Trump officials making changes to drug pricing proposal | House panel advances flavored e-cig ban | Senators press FDA tobacco chief on vaping ban Chad Wolf becomes acting DHS secretary Schumer blocks drug pricing measure during Senate fight, seeking larger action 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 OmarOcasio-Cortez jabs 'plutocratic' late entrants to 2020 field Krystal Ball: Billionaires panicking over Sanders candidacy Omar renews claim Stephen Miller is a 'white nationalist' amid calls for him to step down 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 RoseHillicon Valley: Critics press feds to block Google, Fitbit deal | Twitter takes down Hamas, Hezbollah-linked accounts | TikTok looks to join online anti-terrorism effort | Apple pledges .5B to affordable housing Twitter takes down Hamas, Hezbollah-affiliated accounts after lawmaker pressure FBI chief says racist extremists fueling one another, making connections overseas 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 TrumpButtigieg surges ahead of Iowa caucuses Biden leads among Latino Democrats in Texas, California Kavanaugh hailed by conservative gathering in first public speech since confirmation 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 SandersButtigieg surges ahead of Iowa caucuses Biden leads among Latino Democrats in Texas, California On The Money: Trump appeals to Supreme Court to keep tax returns from NY prosecutors | Pelosi says deal on new NAFTA 'imminent' | Mnuchin downplays shutdown threat | Trump hits Fed after Walmart boasts strong earnings MORE (I-Vt.), Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisBiden leads among Latino Democrats in Texas, California Overnight Health Care: Cigarette smoking rates at new low | Spread of vaping illness slowing | Dems in Congress push to block Trump abortion rule Democratic senators introduce bill to push ICE to stop 'overuse' of solitary confinement MORE (Calif.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenButtigieg surges ahead of Iowa caucuses Biden leads among Latino Democrats in Texas, California Following school shooting, Biden speaks out: 'We have to protect these kids' MORE (Mass.), Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandMaloney primary challenger calls on her to return, donate previous campaign donations from Trump Senate confirms controversial circuit court nominee She Should Run launches initiative to expand number of women in political process MORE (N.Y.) and Amy KlobucharAmy Jean Klobuchar 2020 Democrats demand action on guns after Santa Clarita shooting Hillicon Valley: Federal inquiry opened into Google health data deal | Facebook reports millions of post takedowns | Microsoft shakes up privacy debate | Disney plus tops 10M sign-ups in first day Federal inquiry opened into Google health data deal 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) MenendezGraham blocks resolution recognizing Armenian genocide after Erdoğan meeting Trump encounters GOP resistance to investigating Hunter Biden Fairness, tradition, and the Constitution demand the 'whistleblower' step forward 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: Protests at Trump's NYC Veterans Day speech | House Dems release Pentagon official's deposition transcript | Lawmakers ask Trump to rescind Erdogan invite Bipartisan House members call on Trump to rescind Erdoğan invitation House Democrats pull subpoena for ex-Trump national security official MORE (N.Y.) and House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem JeffriesHakeem Sekou JeffriesUSMCA deal close, but not 'imminent,' Democrats say House Democrat's Halloween display mourns passed bills that die in McConnell's 'legislative graveyard' Democrats unveil impeachment procedures MORE (N.Y.) as well as Reps. Ted DeutchTheodore (Ted) Eliot DeutchEthics panel investigating Rep. Hastings over relationship with staffer Overnight Defense: Protests at Trump's NYC Veterans Day speech | House Dems release Pentagon official's deposition transcript | Lawmakers ask Trump to rescind Erdogan invite Bipartisan House members call on Trump to rescind Erdoğan invitation MORE (Fla.), Josh GottheimerJoshua (Josh) GottheimerProgressive group unveils first slate of 2020 congressional endorsements Hillicon Valley: Critics press feds to block Google, Fitbit deal | Twitter takes down Hamas, Hezbollah-linked accounts | TikTok looks to join online anti-terrorism effort | Apple pledges .5B to affordable housing Twitter takes down Hamas, Hezbollah-affiliated accounts after lawmaker pressure 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