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 PelosiProgressives call for impeachment inquiry after reported Kavanaugh allegations The promise and peril of offshoring prescription drug pricing Words matter, except to Democrats, when it involves impeaching Trump MORE (Calif.), House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerWords matter, except to Democrats, when it involves impeaching Trump Nadler: Impeachment inquiry a 'made-up term' but it's essentially 'what we are doing' Young insurgents aren't rushing to Kennedy's side in Markey fight MORE (Md.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerSinema says she would back Kennedy in race against Markey Democrats threaten to withhold defense votes over wall Pelosi: 'People are dying' because McConnell won't bring up gun legislation 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 OmarSunday shows - Guns dominate after Democratic debate Omar responds to family of 9/11 victim who called her out at anniversary ceremony Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley dance to Lizzo's 'Truth Hurts' in video 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 RoseNew York Democrat pens op-ed on why he opposes impeaching Trump New York college student detained in Russia for possession of medical marijuana Assault weapons ban picks up steam in Congress 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 TrumpHarris bashes Kavanaugh's 'sham' nomination process, calls for his impeachment after sexual misconduct allegation Celebrating 'Hispanic Heritage Month' in the Age of Trump Let's not play Charlie Brown to Iran's Lucy 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 SandersGun control: Campaigning vs. legislating Booker defends middle-ground health care approach: 'We're going to fight to get there' Sunday shows preview: Democratic candidates make the rounds after debate MORE (I-Vt.), Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisHarris bashes Kavanaugh's 'sham' nomination process, calls for his impeachment after sexual misconduct allegation Gun control: Campaigning vs. legislating Booker defends middle-ground health care approach: 'We're going to fight to get there' MORE (Calif.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenGun control: Campaigning vs. legislating Booker defends middle-ground health care approach: 'We're going to fight to get there' Democrats spar over electoral appeal of 'Medicare for All' MORE (Mass.), Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandAt debate, Warren and Buttigieg tap idealism of Obama, FDR Trump court pick sparks frustration for refusing to answer questions Klobuchar, Buttigieg find themselves accidentally flying to debate together MORE (N.Y.) and Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharSunday shows - Guns dominate after Democratic debate Klobuchar: Investigation into Kavanaugh 'a sham' Sunday shows preview: Democratic candidates make the rounds after debate 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) MenendezAs NFIP reauthorization deadline looms, Congress must end lethal subsidies Senate Democrats warn Trump: Don't invite Putin to G-7 Pelosi warns Mnuchin to stop 'illegal' .3B cut to foreign aid 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: Dems grill Trump Army, Air Force picks | House chair subpoenas Trump Afghanistan negotiator | Trump officials release military aid to Ukraine House chairman subpoenas Trump's Afghanistan negotiator Giuliani tears into Democrats after House opens probe into whether he pressured Ukraine to target Biden MORE (N.Y.) and House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem JeffriesHakeem Sekou JeffriesWords matter, except to Democrats, when it involves impeaching Trump Democrats face key moment on impeachment drive Top House Democrat walks back remarks contradicting Judiciary on impeachment inquiry MORE (N.Y.) as well as Reps. Ted DeutchTheodore (Ted) Eliot DeutchGun epidemic is personal for lawmakers touched by violence House panel advances anti-gun violence legislation Gun debate to shape 2020 races MORE (Fla.), Josh GottheimerJoshua (Josh) GottheimerThe Hill's Morning Report - US coastline readies for Hurricane Dorian to make landfall Swing-seat Democrats oppose impeachment, handing Pelosi leverage Republicans plot comeback in New Jersey 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