U.S. Congresswoman Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) issued a statement on Wednesday afternoon labeling the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) a hate group—the first time a Congress member has referred to the lobby as such.
“AIPAC claims to be a bipartisan organization, but its use of hate speech actually makes it a hate group,” McCollum wrote in her statement. “By weaponizing anti-Semitism and hate to silence debate, AIPAC is taunting Democrats and mocking our core values.”
Her statement comes in response to an AIPAC Facebook ad that directly referenced McCollum and some of her fellow Democratic representatives. “The radicals in the Democratic Party are pushing their anti-Semitic and anti-Israel policies down the throats of Americans,” the ad states above a collage of McCollum, Rep. Ilhan Omar, and Rep. Rashida Tlaib. Another AIPAC ad allegedly linked to a petition that called the congresswomen’s criticism of Israel “more sinister” than ISIS.
AIPAC has since retracted and apologized for the Facebook ad and altered the wording of the petition. “We offer our unequivocal apology to the overwhelming majority of Democrats in Congress who are rightfully offended by the inaccurate assertion that the poorly worded, inflammatory advertisement implied,” the statement said. “The ad […] alluded to a genuine concern of many pro-Israel Democrats about a small but growing group, in and out of Congress, that is deliberately working to erode the bipartisan consensus on this issue and undermine the U.S.-Israel relationship.”
Since she was first elected in 2001, McCollum has feverishly supported Palestinian human rights in Congress, often putting her in the minority on issues concerning Israel and Palestine. In April 2019, she introduced HR 2407, a bill that would require that U.S. funding not be used towards the “detention, interrogation, abuse, or ill-treatment of Palestinian children.”
“The decision by AIPAC to use my image in paid Facebook ads weaponizing anti-Semitism to incite followers by attacking me, my colleagues, and my work promoting human rights for Palestinian children detained in Israeli military prisons is hate speech,” McCollum wrote.
McCollum’s statement comes amid increasing criticism of AIPAC from the Democratic Party, which has historically supported the lobby in overwhelming numbers. Earlier this month, Sen. Elizabeth Warren promised to skip AIPAC’s upcoming conference.
Ahead of the Iowa Caucus, an AIPAC-affiliated lobby launched a Facebook ad campaign against Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Here is McCollum’s full statement:
As a Member of Congress and the vice-chair of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, I believe defending human rights and freedom are foundational to our national security and our democracy. But the struggle to advance human rights and promote human dignity inevitably results in confronting entrenched forces determined to dehumanize, debase, and demonize individuals or entire populations to maintain dominance and an unjust status quo. Hate is used as a weapon to incite and silence dissent. Unfortunately, this is my recent experience with AIPAC – the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
The decision by AIPAC to use my image in paid Facebook ads weaponizing anti-Semitism to incite followers by attacking me, my colleagues, and my work promoting human rights for Palestinian children detained in Israeli military prisons is hate speech. But it doesn’t end there. According to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, an AIPAC petition linked to their ads designed to mobilize supporters stated, “It’s critical that we protect our Israeli allies especially as they face threats from Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah, ISIS and – maybe more sinister – right here in the U.S. Congress.”
This is not a call to action, it is incitement.
Elected representatives in Congress “more sinister” than ISIS? Last year, I met with AIPAC representatives from Minnesota in my office. Do forces “more sinister” than ISIS sit down and meet with AIPAC’s advocates?
AIPAC wants its followers to believe that my bill, H.R. 2407, to protect Palestinian children from being interrogated, abused, and even tortured in Israeli military prisons is a threat more sinister than ISIS. This is not empty political rhetoric. It is hate speech.
AIPAC’s language is intended to demonize, not elevate a policy debate. Vile attacks such as this may be commonplace in the Trump era, but they should never be normalized. Hate speech is intentionally destructive and dehumanizing, which is why it is used as a weapon by groups with a stake in profiting from oppression.
I will not back down from my commitment to peace, justice, equality, and human rights for Palestinians and Israelis. I want Jews, Muslims, Christians, and all people to be safe, secure, and able to find hope and opportunity – in the U.S., in Israel, and in Palestine.
AIPAC claims to be a bipartisan organization, but its use of hate speech actually makes it a hate group. 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.
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