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 PelosiDemocrats offer mixed reactions to Trump's Mideast peace plan James Taylor to perform at awards ceremony for Ruth Bader Ginsburg this week Trump offers two-state peace plan for Israeli-Palestinian conflict amid skepticism MORE (Calif.), House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerHouse Democrats push back on Trump's efforts to take credit for the economy This week: Senate barrels toward showdown on impeachment witnesses The Hill's Morning Report - Trump trial begins with clash over rules MORE (Md.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerLawyer says Parnas can't attend Senate trial due to ankle bracelet Senate Democrats' super PAC raised million in 2019 As the mental health crisis grows, Puerto Ricans need long-term care 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 OmarBiden leads 2020 pack in congressional endorsements Sanders wants one-on-one fight with Biden Jayapal: 'We will end up with another Donald Trump' if the US doesn't elect a progressive 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 RoseSan Francisco mayor endorses Bloomberg Mixed feelings on war power limits: Lawmakers and vet candidates Rep. Bobby Rush endorses Bloomberg's White House bid 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 TrumpCNN's Don Lemon explains handling of segment after Trump criticism NPR reporter after Pompeo clash: Journalists don't interview government officials to score 'political points' Lawyer says Parnas can't attend Senate trial due to ankle bracelet 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 SandersNew campaign ad goes after Sanders by mentioning heart attack Biden on whether Sanders can unify party as nominee: 'It depends' Steyer rebukes Biden for arguing with supporter he thought was Sanders voter MORE (I-Vt.), Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisSanders allies in new uproar over DNC convention appointments Biden leads 2020 pack in congressional endorsements Harris on 2020 endorsement: 'I am not thinking about it right now' MORE (Calif.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenBiden on whether Sanders can unify party as nominee: 'It depends' Overnight Health Care — Presented by Philip Morris International — HHS has no plans to declare emergency over coronavirus | GOP senator calls for travel ban to stop outbreak | Warren releases plan to contain infectious diseases Biden lines up high-profile surrogates to campaign in Iowa MORE (Mass.), Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandIt's time for paid leave for all GOP-Biden feud looms over impeachment trial Sanders defends vote against USMCA: 'Not a single damn mention' of climate change MORE (N.Y.) and Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharSanders opens up 15-point lead in New Hampshire: Poll Poll: 56 percent of Democrats say billionaire politicians more likely to cater to special interests Support for Biden, Sanders ticks up nationally: poll 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) MenendezMedia's selective outrage exposed in McSally-Raju kerfuffle Dem senators say Iran threat to embassies not mentioned in intelligence briefing Overnight Defense: Iran crisis eases as Trump says Tehran 'standing down' | Dems unconvinced on evidence behind Soleimani strike | House sets Thursday vote on Iran war powers 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 EngelHouse chairman says Pompeo agreed to testify on Iran Democrats offer mixed reactions to Trump's Mideast peace plan Trump to release Israeli-Palestinian peace plan on Tuesday MORE (N.Y.) and House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem JeffriesHakeem Sekou JeffriesJeffries, Nadler showcase different NY styles in Trump trial Hakeem Jeffries tells Senate in impeachment proceedings they should subpoena Baseball Hall of Fame after Jeter vote Video becomes vital part of Democrats' case against Trump MORE (N.Y.) as well as Reps. Ted DeutchTheodore (Ted) Eliot DeutchDemocrats offer mixed reactions to Trump's Mideast peace plan US officials, world leaders arrive in Israel for World Holocaust Forum  Bipartisan lawmakers condemn Iran, dispute State Department on number of protesters killed MORE (Fla.), Josh GottheimerJoshua (Josh) GottheimerThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Pelosi plans to send impeachment articles next week The lawmakers who bucked their parties on the war powers resolution House passes measure seeking to limit Trump on Iran 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