Let’s Reminisce About the Time Betty McCollum Kicked AIPAC Lobbyists Out of her Office
Something incredible happened shortly before the debut issue of The Shift went out last week. Minnesota Rep. Betty McCollum released a statement referring to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) as a “hate group.” McCollum was justifiably miffed at the organization, which had run a series of Facebook ads implying the congresswoman was a bigger threat to the United States than ISIS. “AIPAC claims to be a bipartisan organization, but its use of hate speech actually makes it a hate group,” read her statement, “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.”
AIPAC eventually yanked the ads (which also targeted Rep. Ilhan Omar and Rep. Rashida Tlaib) and apologized that they ever ran, but McCollum wasn’t buying it. “Any kind of apology would have to be sincere, heartfelt, public, stating that they were wrong and that they would never do this again, and that they will refrain from using this type of speech towards anyone,” she told +972 Magazine.
McCollum has emerged as one of AIPAC’s main political targets as a result of her H.R.2407 bill. That legislation lays out a radical idea: maybe United States taxpayer money shouldn’t go towards detaining children in Palestine. Many Democrats have spoken eloquently about the kids caught up in our own border crisis, but extending sentiments to Palestinians appears to be a bridge too far. The bill currently has only 23 cosponsors and will almost certainly die at the end of this congressional session, but it’s a threat akin to ISIS nonetheless.
This actually isn’t the first time that McCollum has gotten into a dustup with AIPAC. Way back in 2006, one of their lobbyists attacked the lawmaker for voting against an antiterrorism bill so hawkish that the Bush administration wouldn’t even support it. On a call with McCollum’s chief of staff, the lobbyist declared that “on behalf of herself, the Jewish community, AIPAC, and the voters of the Fourth District, Congresswoman McCollum’s support for terrorists will not be tolerated.” At the time, McCollum had only been in the House for five years and was over a decade away from taking up the cause of Palestinian children. In fact, a write-up the event refers to McCollum as “staunch supporter of Israel.” AIPAC presumably figured she’d fold immediately, but instead she told the organization’s executive director that his lobbyists wouldn’t be allowed back into her offices until she received an apology. I wonder what that lobbyist thinks about McCollum now.
It’s been a terrible year for AIPAC and it isn’t even March yet. In addition to being called a hate group over their inflammatory ads, they’re also forced to face the reality that Bernie Sanders is the Democratic frontrunner. Sanders can hardly be classified as a great on the subject of Palestine, but he’s repeatedly suggested that maybe Israel shouldn’t just get over $3 billion in military aid every year from the United States without conditions. Merely floating such a theory used to be regarded as touching the third rail in U.S. politics and the fact he hasn’t electrocuted himself is, no doubt, causing consternation within the lobbying group. There’s a consistent media narrative about how Sanders is unelectable because his views are far to the left of mainstream America, but if you interrogate this point on any given issue it tends to fall apart. Israel is no different. According to a Data for Progress poll from last year, 46% of voters support conditioning aid to Israel in an effort to curb its human rights abuses. That includes 65% of Democratic voters. In fact, there’s reason to believe Democrats are probably to the left of Sanders on this issue. Sanders isn’t an advocate for BDS, but almost half of the Democratic voters polled in a recent survey who said they’ve heard of the movement, also say they support it.
AIPAC’s effort to tag the Jewish candidate as an antisemite has predictably been challenging, but they seemingly gained an ally when a group called The Democratic Majority for Israel (DMFI) was founded last year. Comprised of Democratic insiders and donors, DMFI was created to stomp out growing pro-Palestine sentiment within the party and they zeroed in on the Sanders campaign immediately. DMFI presents themselves as a more progressive alternative to AIPAC and downplay any connection to the lobbying group. However, the organization is loaded with AIPAC alumni and The Intercept now reports that AIPAC helped bankroll a series of anti-Sanders attack ads that DMFI put out in Nevada. “As far as we know, what you are suggesting is completely untrue,” DMFI spokesperson Rachel Rosen told the website, “But because we are a separate organization, we can’t know exactly what other organizations are doing.”
You might remember DMFI’s last anti-Sanders ad blitz, which took place before the Iowa caucus. They spent over $800,000 to run of series of television spots where “voters” expressed concerns about Bernie’s age and health. The effort led to Sanders raising $1.3 million in a single day and he ultimately got more votes than any other candidate in the state. DMFI president Mark Mellman claimed that the group helped steer voters away from Sanders at the caucus. Big, if true.
In the debut issue of The Shift last week, we detailed how AIPAC’s annual policy conference is also shaping up to be a disaster. A coalition of progressive groups have launched a campaign to persuade Democratic candidates to skip the March event. Warren says she’s not going. Bernie said he’s probably not either. Biden said that he’d attend, but would try to convince the group to change its position on the Iran Deal. Mayor Pete (who might be the most hawkish of the bunch when it comes to Israel) didn’t even know when the conference was.
Things have certainly changed. AIPAC conferences used to be viewed as a necessary stop on the way to The White House and a spot where Democrats could squash any anxieties regarding their devotion to Israel. Back in 2008, pro-Israel voters wondered whether Barack Obama would be trouble and emails circulated throughout the internet portraying the longtime centrist as some sort of pro-Palestine radical. The day after Obama became the presumptive nominee, he showed up at an AIPAC conference to assure everyone that he’d most certainly play ball:
Before I begin, I want to say that I know some provocative e-mails have been circulating throughout Jewish communities across the country. A few of you may have gotten them. They’re filled with tall tales and dire warnings about a certain candidate for president. And all I want to say is — let me know if you see this guy named Barack Obama, because he sounds pretty frightening.
But if anyone has been confused by these e-mails, I want you to know that today I’ll be speaking from my heart, and as a true friend of Israel. And I know that when I visit with AIPAC, I am among friends. Good friends. Friends who share my strong commitment to make sure that the bond between the United States and Israel is unbreakable today, tomorrow and forever.
After he won the presidential election, Obama further signaled which direction his administration would go by making pro-Israel hardliner Rahm Emanuel his Chief of Staff. “Obviously [he] will influence the president to be pro-Israel,” Rahm’s dad told an Israeli tabloid after the appointment, “Why wouldn’t he? What is he, an Arab? He’s not going to clean the floors of the White House.”
Ah, the good old days.
Odds and Ends
🇮🇱 Alex Kane has a great piece at Jewish Currents on the rise and fall of The Israel Project.
🎤 Palestinian artists are calling on Celine Dion to cancel her August 2020 concerts in Tel Aviv
💰 The UN Human Rights Office has identified 112 businesses profiting off Israeli settlements
The very existence of such a list has led to widespread condemnation from United States lawmakers, including many Democrats. “The BDS movement isn’t about peace, it’s about delegitimizing Israel & her people,” tweeted New York Democratic Rep. Carolyn Maloney, “The UN blacklist of east Jerusalem, West Bank & Golan Heights businesses is unhelpful & another action in a long string of anti-Israel & antisemitic actions that are obstacles, not aids to peace.”
📦 Amazon is apparently delivering packages to Israeli settlements for free, but charging Palestinians.
🐘 Republican congressmen Mike Johnson of Louisiana and Jim Jordan of Ohio met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem and spoke with Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan about efforts to crack down BDS in the United States.