After Omar controversy, new group aims to get more Israel backers into Congress
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At launch, it endorses 14 serving Democrats, 13 Republicans

After Omar controversy, new group aims to get more Israel backers into Congress

Founded by former AIPAC officials, Pro-Israel America seeks to be more explicitly political than the powerful lobby

Eric Cortellessa covers American politics for The Times of Israel.

Attendees listen to US Vice President Mike Pence address the American Israel Public Affairs Committee's annual policy conference in Washington, DC, on March 5, 2018. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/AFP)
Attendees listen to US Vice President Mike Pence address the American Israel Public Affairs Committee's annual policy conference in Washington, DC, on March 5, 2018. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/AFP)

WASHINGTON — A new group was launched Tuesday to bolster pro-Israel candidates running for Congress.

Following the 2018 midterms and the elevation of House members more sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, such as New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib and Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar, former staffers at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) have created an organization to send more traditionally pro-Israel candidates to Capitol Hill.

Founded by Jeff Mendelsohn and Jonathan Missner, Pro-Israel America endorsed 27 members of Congress — 14 Democrats and 13 Republicans — as it announced its own establishment.

“There are challenges to the alliance and those challenges are likely to grow in the future,” Mendelsohn told The Times of Israel. “Congress is changing rapidly. What we’re trying to do is get more pro-Israel Americans involved in the political process by creating a one-stop online shop where people can learn about the importance of political action.”

Whereas AIPAC primarily lobbies members of Congress to support US aid to Israel and other policies favored by Jerusalem, Pro-Israel America aims to exist more explicitly in the political space, assisting candidates who support Israel — and helping Israel-supporting donors identify such candidates.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the 2018 American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference, at the Washington Convention Center, March 6, 2018, in Washington, DC. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

The announcement comes one week before AIPAC’s annual policy conference.

The incumbent congresspeople the group endorsed Tuesday have held traditionally supportive views of Israel, including Democrats Steny Hoyer of Maryland and Elliot Engel of New York, and Republicans Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Kevin McCarthy of California.

Jonathan Missner (Courtesy)

Pro-Israel America, Mendelsohn said Monday evening, will be funded by private donors. Its board chair, Missner, is leading the fundraising efforts.

Missner, now an attorney, was previously the managing director of national affairs at AIPAC. According to his law firm’s website, he had a role in soliciting and procuring funds for the powerful pro-Israel lobby. “Among AIPAC’s many successes during his tenure, revenues tripled under Mr. Missner’s direct leadership,” the biography said.

Mendelsohn was AIPAC’s outreach director from 2005 to 2016.

Earlier this month, the Huffington Post reported that several figures closely associated with AIPAC were planning to establish a new group that would raise small-dollar donations from pro-Israel Americans.

Jeff Mendelsohn (Courtesy)

“Pro-Israel giving isn’t just for major donors and grass tops,” the piece quoted a strategy document for the organization as saying. “The majority of Americans support a close relationship with Israel, but most of them do not currently have easy access to opportunities for sustained pro-Israel political giving.”

Mendelshon said Monday night that Pro-Israel America’s website will be used as a resource for voters to track where candidates across the country stack up on the Jewish state.

“This is something that I’ve been thinking about for a long time: People don’t have an easy way to learn about what candidates are pro-Israel and how to support those candidates,” he said.

Over the last several weeks, the US-Israel relationship has been a subject of intense controversy.

Rep. Ilhan Omar, Democrat-Minnesota, in the House Budget Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 12, 2019. (Susan Walsh/AP)

Freshman Congresswoman Omar instigated a firestorm when she accused AIPAC of paying politicians to be pro-Israel. She later apologized for those remarks but ignited a new controversy weeks later when she said that pro-Israel activists were pushing for lawmakers to have “allegiance” to Israel, which critics said amounted to accusing Jews of having “dual loyalty.”

The House of Representatives passed a resolution denouncing various kinds of hatred, including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, which some accused of being a “watered down” version of the original motion.

US President Donald Trump lashed out at Democrats following the resolution’s passage, reportedly telling GOP donors that “Democrats hate Jewish people.”

Mendelsohn said that Pro-Israel America will strive to preserve Israel as a bipartisan cause, promoting both Democrats and Republicans whose views align with the organization’s.

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