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 PelosiPelosi preparing for House to decide presidency if neither Trump or Biden win electoral college: report Trump seeks boost from seniors with 0 drug discount coupons GOP senators confident Trump pick to be confirmed by November MORE (Calif.), House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerCentrist Democrats got their COVID bill, now they want a vote House to vote on resolution affirming peaceful transition of power On The Money: Anxious Democrats push for vote on COVID-19 aid | Pelosi, Mnuchin ready to restart talks | Weekly jobless claims increase | Senate treads close to shutdown deadline MORE (Md.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerDemocrats blast Trump after report reveals he avoided income taxes for 10 years: 'Disgusting' Biden refuses to say whether he would support expanding Supreme Court Schumer says Trump tweet shows court pick meant to kill off ObamaCare 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 urges Democrats to focus on nonvoters over 'disaffected Trump voters' Omar fires back at Trump over rally remarks: 'This is my country' Trump attacks Omar for criticizing US: 'How did you do where you came from?' 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 RoseCentrist Democrats got their COVID bill, now they want a vote Lawmakers fear voter backlash over failure to reach COVID-19 relief deal The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by The Air Line Pilots Association - Pence lauds Harris as 'experienced debater'; Trump, Biden diverge over debate prep 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 TrumpNew Biden campaign ad jabs at Trump's reported 0 income tax payments Ocasio-Cortez: Trump contributed less in taxes 'than waitresses and undocumented immigrants' Third judge orders Postal Service to halt delivery cuts 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 Biden campaign ad jabs at Trump's reported 0 income tax payments Trump, Biden have one debate goal: Don't lose The role (un)happiness plays in how people vote MORE (I-Vt.), Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisTrump, Biden have one debate goal: Don't lose Dwayne Johnson backs Biden in first public presidential endorsement Pelosi: Trump Supreme Court pick 'threatens' Affordable Care Act MORE (Calif.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenNew Biden campaign ad jabs at Trump's reported 0 income tax payments Democrats blast Trump after report reveals he avoided income taxes for 10 years: 'Disgusting' Overnight Defense: Appeals court revives House lawsuit against military funding for border wall | Dems push for limits on transferring military gear to police | Lawmakers ask for IG probe into Pentagon's use of COVID-19 funds MORE (Mass.), Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandSunday shows preview: Lawmakers prepare for SCOTUS confirmation hearings before election Sunday shows preview: Justice Ginsburg dies, sparking partisan battle over vacancy before election Suburban moms are going to decide the 2020 election MORE (N.Y.) and Amy KlobucharAmy Klobuchar3 reasons why Biden is misreading the politics of court packing Social media platforms put muscle into National Voter Registration Day Battle lines drawn on precedent in Supreme Court fight 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) MenendezWatchdog confirms State Dept. canceled award for journalist who criticized Trump Kasie Hunt to host lead-in show for MSNBC's 'Morning Joe' Senators ask for removal of tariffs on EU food, wine, spirits: report 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 panel halts contempt proceedings against Pompeo after documents turned over Engel subpoenas US global media chief Michael Pack The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by The Air Line Pilots Association - Pence lauds Harris as 'experienced debater'; Trump, Biden diverge over debate prep MORE (N.Y.) and House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem JeffriesHakeem Sekou JeffriesDemocratic leaders: Supreme Court fight is about ObamaCare Pelosi: House will stay in session until agreement is reached on coronavirus relief Races heat up for House leadership posts MORE (N.Y.) as well as Reps. Ted DeutchTheodore (Ted) Eliot DeutchShakespeare Theatre Company goes virtual for 'Will on the Hill...or Won't They?' Florida Democrat introduces bill to recognize Puerto Rico statehood referendum Matt Gaetz, Roger Stone back far-right activist Laura Loomer in congressional bid MORE (Fla.), Josh GottheimerJoshua (Josh) GottheimerCentrist Democrats got their COVID bill, now they want a vote Vulnerable Democrats tell Pelosi COVID-19 compromise 'essential' Centrist House group offers bipartisan COVID-19 relief deal 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