Nancy Pelosi calls out AIPAC over 'deeply cynical' and 'inflammatory' ad attacking Ilhan Omar
- Pelosi and Hoyer defended Omar against an ad attacking her over criticism of Israel.
- "It's very disappointing to see deeply cynical and inflammatory ads twisting her words," Pelosi said.
- There's a growing rift in the Democratic party over US-Israeli relations.
Top Democratic leaders in Congress, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, on Wednesday criticized the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) over an ad associating Rep. Ilhan Omar with Hamas.
"I don't agree with Congresswoman Omar's comments, but it's very disappointing to see deeply cynical and inflammatory ads twisting her words," Pelosi said in comments to reporters.
"As we always respect Israel's right to defend herself, there must be a serious effort on the part of both parties in the conflict to end the violence and respect the rights of both the Israeli and Palestinian people," Pelosi added.
The AIPAC ad was in response to a recent tweet from Omar in which she said, "Israeli air strikes killing civilians in Gaza is an act of terrorism. Palestinians deserve protection. Unlike Israel, missile defense programs, such as Iron Dome, don't exist to protect Palestinian civilians. It's unconscionable to not condemn these attacks on the week of Eid."
Distorting Omar's words while superimposing her image over Hamas rocket fire, the AIPAC ad said, "When Israel targets Hamas, Rep. Omar calls it an act of terrorism."
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer was also critical of AIPAC's move.
"I disagree with the statements made by the members, but attacking them in ads does not advance the goal of increasing support for Israel," Hoyer said. "AIPAC ought to be making the case to the American people not only for Israel's right to protect the lives of its citizens, but why they have a moral responsibility to do so and its value as our ally and national security partner."
Progressive Democrats like Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Rep. Mark Pocan of Wisconsin also defended Omar, who is Muslim, accusing AIPAC of Islamophobia.
-Mark Pocan (@MarkPocan) May 19, 2021
-Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib (@RepRashida) May 19, 2021
The willingness of top Democrats to criticize AIPAC, which is extremely influential in Washington, DC, is indicative of the growing schism in the party regarding US-Israeli relations.
In 2019, Omar sent tweets about Israel and AIPAC that led to widespread allegations of anti-Semitism as well as public criticism from Democratic leaders - including Pelosi and Hoyer. Omar at the time suggested that support for Israel among Republican members of Congress was motivated by money, and subsequently suggested AIPAC, a pro-Israel lobbying group, was paying US politicians to support Israel.
Omar subsequently apologized, saying, "Anti-Semitism is real and I am grateful for Jewish allies and colleagues who are educating me on the painful history of anti-Semitic tropes ... This is why I unequivocally apologize."
Hoyer in a speech at AIPAC's annual policy conference in 2019 called out Omar over her criticism of Israel.
The fact that Pelosi and other senior Democratic leaders are defending Omar against AIPAC just two years later highlights how the conversation on Israel has rapidly shifted.
Progressive Democrats like Omar have increasingly pushed for a more nuanced approach to US-Israeli relations, and in recent days urged President Joe Biden to exhibit more concern for Palestinian human rights and to call for a cease-fire in more forceful terms. A number of Democratic lawmakers have backed potentially conditioning or limiting aid to Israel over its treatment of Palestinians.
Along these lines, Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont this week moved to block a $735 million sale of precision-guided weapons to Israel amid ongoing fighting with Hamas.
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