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AIPAC defends endorsement of Republicans who questioned 2020 election

Pro-Israel lobby tells activists it will continue cultivating politicians of all stripes, citing what it calls deadly threats faced by Jewish state

Then US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) 2020 policy conference in Washington, DC, March 2, 2020. (AP/Jose Luis Magana)
Then US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) 2020 policy conference in Washington, DC, March 2, 2020. (AP/Jose Luis Magana)

WASHINGTON (JTA) — In response to criticism of its first slate of political action committee endorsements, the AIPAC lobby told its activists that it would continue to cultivate politicians of all stripes, even those who questioned the most recent presidential election based on false claims, citing what it calls deadly threats faced by Israel.

“We have friends who are pro-choice and pro-life, those who are liberal on immigration and those who want to tighten our borders, and yes, those who disagree strongly on issues surrounding the 2020 presidential election,” said the message AIPAC sent on Friday, a day after a Jewish Telegraphic Agency story on the lobby’s support of Democrats who voted “yes” on the Iran deal, one of the group’s most reviled foreign policy developments.

The letter was signed by Betsy Berns Korn, AIPAC’s president, and Howard Kohr, AIPAC’s CEO.

AIPAC launched its first-ever PAC in December and earlier this month unveiled its first 120 endorsees, including 37 Republicans who refused to affirm Joe Biden’s election on Jan. 6, 2021. Their votes came after insurrectionists embracing the same false theories led a deadly riot at the Capitol. Their inclusion on the AIPAC endorsement list spurred sharp criticism from pro-Israel Democrats.

“This is no moment for the pro-Israel movement to become selective about its friends,” Friday’s message added. “Israel faces nuclear threats from Iran’s rulers and terror tunnels built by Hezbollah and Hamas. An international movement seeking to isolate and demonize the Jewish state continues to make inroads, especially here in the United States.”

AIPAC President Betsy Korn. (Screen capture/YouTube)

But also on the endorsement list are 27 Democrats who voted “yes” to approve the Iran deal in 2015, an inclusion that has raised eyebrows among longtime Republican AIPAC supporters. The deal, currently being renegotiated to allow for the United States’ reentry into the agreement, trades sanctions relief for a rollback of Iran’s nuclear activity. Israel’s government argues that the accord is too light on Iran and enables their sponsorship of terrorism in the Middle East.

The message on Friday also cited Russia’s war against Ukraine, noting how Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s address to Congress this week brought a rare moment of congressional comity.

“What are the stakes? Ask President Zelensky,” the message said. “His nation faces a war of extinction — a war which will determine whether his nation exists in the coming months.”

AIPAC CEO Howard Kohr speaks at the AIPAC policy conference in Washington DC on March 24, 2019 (AIPAC screenshot)

Publication of AIPAC’s letter was not well received by progressives, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who tweeted, “so… AIPAC is now endorsing & donating to Republicans who voted to overturn the US election on Jan 6th because, according to their statement, it’s more OK to dismantle US democracy than it is to question if US tax dollars should fund detention & abuse of Palestinian kids.”

“Wonder what my Dem colleagues welcoming this kind of support think about this position,” she added.

Dylan Williams, who is vice president of the AIPAC-rival J Street lobbby tweeted, “First, let’s be clear: There can be no excuse for endorsing and fundraising for candidates who threaten America’s democratic future and promote dangerous conspiracy theories.”

“This letter seems to suggest that there’s no line the American pro-Israel community shouldn’t cross, even if that means selling out America’s democratic future and supporting those who threaten minorities here at home,” he added.

The lobby’s defense even exposed it to criticism from the right. Rep. Liz Cheney, who was one of ten Republicans who voted to impeach former president Donald Trump for his role in the January 6 insurrection, tweeted, “America’s relationship with Israel has never been more important. Those of us who have never wavered in our support for Israel or our fight against anti-Semitism in the US & around the world want @AIPAC members to know your leadership is playing a dangerous game of politics.”

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