WASHINGTON – Minnesota Democratic Congresswoman Betty McCollum called AIPAC a “hate group” on Wednesday, in an unusually harsh attack on the leading lobby group supporting Israel in Washington.
McCollum, who has served her St. Paul district since 2001, released a lengthy statement in which she denounced AIPAC for a recent ad that accused Democrats of anti-Semitism.
The lobby group published that ad two weeks ago on Facebook. After several media outlets, including Haaretz, reported about the ad, AIPAC released an apology.
The AIPAC ad led to a petition against Democratic members of Congress who have called to put conditions or limitations on U.S. military aid to Israel, including McCollum. Her name was included on the list because she has promoted a bill that, if approved, would require that Israel won’t use any of the $3.8 billion it receives annually from the U.S. in order to detain or arrest Palestinians younger than 18. The bill was proposed by McCollum in response to news stories about detention and arrest of Palestinians under the age of 13 by Israeli forces in the West Bank.
“The decision by AIPAC to use my image in paid Facebook ads weaponizing anti-Semitism to incite followers by attacking me, my colleagues, and my work promoting human rights for Palestinian children detained in Israeli military prisons is hate speech,” McCollum wrote on Wednesday. She then quoted from the AIPAC petition, which included the following sentence: “It’s critical that we protect our Israeli allies especially as they face threats from Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah, ISIS and – maybe more sinister – right here in the U.S. Congress.”
McCollum wrote in reply to this sentence: “Elected representatives in Congress “more sinister” than ISIS? Last year, I met with AIPAC representatives from Minnesota in my office. Do forces “more sinister” than ISIS sit down and meet with AIPAC’s advocates?”
She added that “AIPAC’s language is intended to demonize, not elevate a policy debate. Vile attacks such as this may be commonplace in the Trump era, but they should never be normalized. Hate speech is intentionally destructive and dehumanizing, which is why it is used as a weapon by groups with a stake in profiting from oppression.”
McCollum ended her statement by appealing to other Democrats to follow her lead on the issue. “AIPAC claims to be a bipartisan organization, but its use of hate speech actually makes it a hate group,” she wrote. “By weaponizing anti-Semitism and hate to silence debate, AIPAC is taunting Democrats and mocking our core values. I hope Democrats understand what is at stake and take a stand because working to advance peace, human rights, and justice is not sinister – it is righteous.”
Over the weekend, AIPAC offered two responses to the ad’s publication. On Friday, when the story was first reported, an AIPAC spokesperson told Haaretz that “this ad was directed to pro-Israel Democrats and they have responded very positively, demonstrating the deep commitment within the party to ensuring that the U.S.-Israel relationship remains strong and with bipartisan support. It is calling upon the pro-Israel Democratic majority to continue to stand up against a minority of those in the party who seek to weaken our relationship with Israel.”
The spokesperson also noted that AIPAC aired an ad in 2018 against Senator Rand Paul (Republican of Kentucky) over his attempts to block bipartisan security aid to Israel. The ad, which appeared both on social media and television in Paul’s home state, slammed him for trying to “destabilize the U.S.-Israel relationship.” Paul, however, was not accused by AIPAC of being anti-Semitic.
On Saturday, following strong criticism from Democrats in Congress who are supportive of AIPAC and have a close relationship with the organization, the group released a longer statement which offered a clear apology.
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“We offer our unequivocal apology to the overwhelming majority of Democrats in Congress who are rightfully offended by the inaccurate assertion that the poorly worded, inflammatory advertisement implied,” the organization wrote. “We deeply appreciate the broad and reliable support that Democrats in Congress have consistently demonstrated for Israel. The bipartisan consensus that Democrats and Republicans have established on this issue forms the foundation of the U.S.-Israel relationship.”
McCollum’s criticism comes a week after Senator Elizabeth Warren, who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, said during a public appearance that she will “skip” this year’s AIPAC conference. Warren was asked about this by a supporter at an event in New Hampshire. That supporter said she is “horrified” by “the unholy alliance that AIPAC is forming with Islamophobes, anti-Semites and white nationalists.” Warren did not counter that characterization, but simply confirmed she won’t attend the conference. Warren has attended AIPAC events in the past, but did not go to last year’s AIPAC conference.
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This year's conference will take place immediately before the "Super Tuesday" vote in the Democratic primary, which includes voting in more than a dozen states. It's unclear at this point if any of the Democratic nominees will attend the event, in light of the political schedule.