At the Christians United for Israel Washington Summit on Monday, Vice President Mike Pence condemned the Democratic party for promoting anti-semitism, specifically singling out New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Minnesota Representative Ilhan Omar for criticism.
Pence criticized Ocasio-Cortez for her recent comments comparing U.S. border detention facilities to concentration camps. “To compare the humane work of the dedicated men and women of Customs and Border Protection with the horrors of the Holocaust is an outrage,” said Pence/ “The Nazis took lives. American law enforcement save lives every day…This slander of law enforcement was an insult to the 6 million killed in the Holocaust. It should be condemned by every American of every political party everywhere.”
Pence’s comments come just two days after a New York Times story detailing horrifying conditions at a detention center in Clint, Texas. “Outbreaks of scabies, shingles and chickenpox were spreading among the hundreds of children who were being held in cramped cells,” the Times wrote, based on interviews with agents who worked at the facility. “The stench of the children’s dirty clothing was so strong it spread to the agents’ own clothing — people in town would scrunch their noses when they left work. The children cried constantly. One girl seemed likely enough to try to kill herself that the agents made her sleep on a cot in front of them, so they could watch her as they were processing new arrivals.”
Trump claims the the story was fabricated. “The Fake News Media, in particular the Failing [New York Times] is writing phony and exaggerated accounts of the Border Detention Centers”, he tweeted.
In an Instagram video posted by Ocasio-Cortez last month the Congresswoman says, “I want to talk to the people that are concerned enough with humanity to say that ‘never again’ means something. The fact that concentration camps are now an institutionalized practice in the ‘Home of the Free’ is extraordinarily disturbing and we need to do something about it.” Her comparison has been criticized by many Republicans, pro-Israel groups, and Jewish organizations, but she hasn’t backed down from the accusation. “This administration has established concentration camps on the southern border of the United States for immigrants, where they are being brutalized with dehumanizing conditions and dying,” she posted in a June 18 Twitter thread, “And for the shrieking Republicans who don’t know the difference: concentration camps are not the same as death camps. Concentration camps are considered by experts as ‘the mass detention of civilians without trial. And that’s exactly what this administration is doing.”
“And for the shrieking Republicans who don’t know the difference: concentration camps are not the same as death camps. Concentration camps are considered by experts as ‘the mass detention of civilians without trial,’ ” she continued. “And that’s exactly what this administration is doing.”
Pence’s comments on Omar concerned her recent criticisms of Israel, including the much-debated AIPAC tweet from February, which declared that U.S. politicians’ support for the country is “all about the Benjamins.” Pence lamented that unequivocal Democratic support for Israel had waned in recent years and called for Omar to be thrown off the Foreign Affairs Committee for her views:
Support for Israel and the Jewish people is I believe more important than ever before. All over the world, antisemitism is on the rise; you see it on college campuses, in the marketplace, and sadly even in the halls of Congress. You know, there was a time when support for Israel was not a partisan issue here in Washington. I’ll never forget the day in 2007 that I, a Christian, conservative Republican was asked to co-found the Congressional Anti-Semitism Taskforce with the only Holocaust survivor ever to serve in Congress: the late and great Congressman Tom Lantos. (Applause)
We formed that task force because of the broad consensus that existed in the Congress of support for Israel, support for the Jewish people, but how things have changed. It’s astonishing to think that the part 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. Recently a freshman Democrat in Congress trafficked in repeated anti-semitic tropes. We all remember them. She alleged that congressional support for Israel reflected an allegiance to a foreign country. She said that Israel had, and I quote, “hypnotized the world.” Well, let me say this from the heart: anti-semitism has no place in the Congress of the United States of America or anywhere in this nation and anyone who slanders the historic alliance between the United States and Israel should not be sitting on the Foreign Affairs Committee in the House of Representatives. (Applause)
Maybe most astonishing of all, as we talk about how times have changed…the party that has been home to so many American Jews for so long, recently couldn’t even muster the votes to unequivocally condemn anti-semitism in a resolution. I mean, that’s why the work of Christians United For Israel is more important than ever before and fortunately CUFI is more effective than ever before. (Applause)
Omar faced backlash from both parties after he AIPAC tweets and issued an apology to anyone who was offended at the time. “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,” she said in a statement, “My intention is never to offend my constituents or Jewish Americans as a whole. We have to always be willing to step back and think through criticism, just as I expect people to hear me when others attack me for my identity. This is why I unequivocally apologize.”
Christians United for Israel bills itself as the largest pro-Israel organization in the United States and claims it currently has 7 million members. It was founded by controversial Texas Pastor John Hagee, who has declared that both Nazism and Zionism were sent by God to return the Jewish people to Israel. He’s also implied that the Holocaust was punishment for the Jews who refused to embrace Zionism.
The Trump administration sent five senior advisers to the two-day summit, which also included a televised speech from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and will later feature speeches from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, National Security Advisor John Bolton, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and Senator Marco Rubio of Florida.
Last week House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made headlines after she criticized a popular group of freshman Democratic congresswomen for voting against a bill that sent more funding to the border: Ocasio-Cortez, Omar, Massachusetts’ Ayanna Pressley, and Michigan’s Rashida Tlaib. “All these people have their public whatever and their Twitter world,” Pelosi told New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, “But they didn’t have any following. They’re four people and that’s how many votes they got.”
“That public ‘whatever’ is called public sentiment,” Ocasio-Cortez responded on Twitter, “And wielding the power to shift it is how we actually achieve meaningful change in this country.”