Defense

Pence hits 2020 Dems for skipping AIPAC

Vice President Pence hit Democratic presidential candidates for skipping an annual pro-Israel conference during his own address at the event on Monday.

"Anyone who aspires to the highest office in the land should not be afraid to stand with the strongest supporters of Israel in America," Pence said at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference in Washington, D.C.

"It is wrong to boycott Israel, and it is wrong to boycott AIPAC," he added, receiving a standing ovation from the thousands of attendees at the conference.

It's unclear if any candidates were invited this year, with AIPAC officials declining to comment on that question. But officials have noted candidates do not typically appear in off-years, such as 2019.

Still, several 2020 Democratic candidates announced last week that they would not attend this year's conference after liberal group MoveOn called for them to boycott the event, citing AIPAC's opposition the Iran nuclear deal and alleged support for "anti-Muslim and anti-Arab rhetoric."

Those who announced they are not attending the conference include top-tier candidates such as Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), as well as former Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-Texas).

The Trump administration has sought to capitalize on Democratic divisions over Israel, as members of the party's progressive wing are increasingly emboldened in their criticisms of the U.S. ally.

Last week, after the Democratic candidates first announced they would skip this year's conference, President Trump attacked the party as "anti-Jewish."

"I don't know what's happened to them, but they are totally anti-Israel," Trump told reporters on the South Lawn of the White House. "Frankly, I think they're anti-Jewish."

In addition to MoveOn's call for a boycott, freshman Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar (Minn.), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has stirred controversy with criticisms of Israel and AIPAC that were widely condemned as anti-Semitic.

In his speech, Pence also hit Omar, one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress, saying "all over the world anti-Semitism is on the rise ... even in the halls of Congress." He did not name Omar, but quoted several of the statements she made that sparked controversy.

"Anti-Semitism has no place in the Congress of the United States of America," Pence said to a standing ovation.

"And at a minimum, anyone who slanders those who support this historic alliance between the United States and Israel should never have a seat on the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives," he added, to an even more thunderous standing ovation from the crowd.

Pence also took aim at the Democratic caucus's response to the Omar controversy. After debating how to respond, House Democrats passed a resolution that broadly condemned hate in many forms. 

"It's astonishing to think that the party of Harry Truman, which did so much to help create the state of Israel, has been co-opted by people who promote rank anti-Semitic rhetoric and work to undermine the broad American consensus of support for Israel," he said. "The party that has been the home for so many American Jews today struggled to muster the vote to unequivocally condemn anti-Semitism in a resolution."

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