Pence to AIPAC: Democratic Party ‘co-opted’ by purveyors of anti-Semitism
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Pence to AIPAC: Democratic Party ‘co-opted’ by purveyors of anti-Semitism

US vice president suggests Israel no longer has bipartisan support in Washington, excoriates Ilhan Omar and Democrats who didn’t show for confab

Eric Cortellessa covers American politics for The Times of Israel.

US Vice President Mike Pence addresses AIPAC's policy conference in Washington DC, March 25, 2019. (Jim Watson/AFP)
US Vice President Mike Pence addresses AIPAC's policy conference in Washington DC, March 25, 2019. (Jim Watson/AFP)

WASHINGTON — US Vice President Mike Pence suggested support for Israel was no longer a bipartisan cause in Washington on Monday, telling the American Israel Public Affairs Committee that the Democratic Party has been “co-opted by people who promote rank anti-Semitic rhetoric.”

Addressing AIPAC’s 2019 Policy Conference, Pence excoriated freshman Congresswoman Ilhan Omar’s suggestion that the powerful lobby pays for politicians to back Israel, and that it pressures lawmakers to have an “allegiance” to the Jewish state.

He also condemned the Democratic leadership’s response to her remarks, as well as Democratic presidential hopefuls for opposing anti-BDS legislation and not appearing at this year’s AIPAC gathering.

“All over the world, anti-Semitism is on the rise,” Pence said. “On college campuses, in the marketplace, even in the halls of Congress. You know, there was a time when support for Israel was not a partisan issue here in Washington.”

Following Omar’s “allegiance” comments, which critics said amounted to accusing American Jews of having “dual loyalty” to the United States and Israel, the Democrat-controlled House passed a resolution condemning various forms of hatred. Republicans, and even some Democrats, said the was “watered down,” as it did not call Omar out by name or focus exclusively on anti-Semitism.

Rep. Ilhan Omar, Democrat of Minnesota, left, whispers to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, outside the Capitol in Washington, March 8, 2019. (AP /J. Scott Applewhite)

On Monday, Pence suggested that the resolution signified the Democratic Party was no longer a reliable supporter of Israel.

“Support for Israel …. has been a long, bipartisan tradition in the Congress, spanning generations,” he told a crowd of more than 18,000. “But how things have changed.

“It’s astonishing to think that party of Harry Truman, which did so much to 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… The party that’s been the home of so many American Jews for so long, today struggled to muster the votes to unequivocally condemn anti-Semitism in a resolution.”

American Jews overwhelmingly vote Democrat. In the 2018 midterms, Democratic candidates won over 75% of the Jewish vote for House seats, compared with 73% in 2016 and 67% in 2014.

US President Donald Trump speaks with the media after stepping off Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House, March 24, 2019, in Washington (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Since the Omar controversy, US President Donald Trump has said that the Democratic Party is “anti-Israel” and “anti-Jewish” and has argued that Jewish Americans are abandoning the party. There is no data to support that claim.

Pence also said that Omar should be stripped of her seat on the powerful House Foreign Affairs Committee.

The Indiana native also seemed to be looking ahead to the 2020 elections.

He castigated the majority of leading Democratic presidential hopefuls who opposed legislation to target Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) supporters, on the grounds that the bills would suppress the free speech rights of Americans.

“As governor of Indiana, I was proud to sign the toughest anti-BDS legislation of any state in the union. But remarkably, today, all but one Democrat running for president voted against the Combating BDS Act in the United States,” he said, referring to Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar.

“And as I stand before you, eight Democrat candidates for president are actually boycotting this very conference. So let me be clear on this point: anyone who aspires to the highest office in the land should not be afraid to stand with the strongest supporters of Israel in America. It is wrong to boycott Israel and it is wrong to boycott AIPAC.”

While the progressive advocacy group MoveOn encouraged Democrats to skip AIPAC’s policy conference, it’s historically unusual for presidential candidates — or aspiring candidates — to address the confab during a non-election year. Indeed, while Hillary Clinton did not attend AIPAC’s conference in 2015, she did in 2016.

Also in his speech, Pence praised Trump for moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, pulling America out of the Iran nuclear deal, and cutting aid to the Palestinians.

He said that the attacks early Monday, in which a rocket was launched from Gaza into central Israel, striking a home and injuring seven people, including two small children, proved that “Hamas is not a partner for peace.”

US Special Counsel Robert Mueller after attending church on March 24, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images/AFP)

Pence opened his remarks by celebrating the conclusion of US Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s inquiry into allegations that the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia during the 2016 elections and that the president obstructed justice.

US Attorney General William Barr notified Congress on Sunday that Mueller did not find substantial evidence of collusion. Yet he punted on the question of obstruction — providing evidence and allowing Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to make a determination.

The two said that Mueller’s report did not exonerate Trump but that they thought the evidence did not suggest that the president committed a crime. The full report has yet to be made public, which Democrats are now saying must happen.

“Yesterday was a great day for our country and every American who cherishes the truth,” Pence told a cheering crowed at AIPAC. “Make no mistake: this was a total vindication.”

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