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What’s behind Rep. Betty McCollum’s most recent run-in with AIPAC

Rep. Betty McCollum
MinnPost photo by Lorie Shaull
Rep. Betty McCollum: “By weaponizing anti-semitism and hate to silence dissent AIPAC is taunting Democrats and mocking our core values.”
They compared Rep. Betty McCollum to a terrorist group.

In late January, The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, better known as AIPAC, posted advertisements on Facebook that said the Fourth District representative was antisemitic and anti-Israel.

In addition to targeting McCollum, the ads implicated Reps. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minneapolis, the first two Muslim women in Congress. The advertisement linked to a website where AIPAC went further and suggested the trio were a greater threat to Israel than ISIS: “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.”

On Thursday, McCollum responded. “By weaponizing anti-semitism and hate to silence dissent AIPAC is taunting Democrats and mocking our core values,” she wrote in a statement. “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.”

This is by no means McCollum’s first run-in with AIPAC. Yet McCollum’s Chief of Staff, Bill Harper, told MinnPost that the advertisements still caught him and the representative off guard. “Frankly, it’s just shocking to see your boss, and for Betty, to see yourself, in an ad like that,” he said.

Since 2006

In 2006, an AIPAC volunteer was on a call with Harper. At the end of the meeting, Harper maintains that the volunteer told him McCollum’s “support for terrorists will not be tolerated.” The volunteer has disputed the quote.

The issue in question was McCollum’s vote against H.R. 4681, a bill that imposed harsh sanctions on Palestine and designated the territories controlled by the Palestinian Authority as a “terrorist sanctuary.”

McCollum has been a forceful advocate for a two-state solution, but she said in public statements the bill went above and beyond the necessary steps needed to move toward that goal.

Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar
REUTERS/Caroline Yang
AIPAC ads on Facebook implicated Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, the first two Muslim women in Congress.
“I am a supporter of a strong US–Israeli relationship and my voting record speaks for itself. This will not change,” McCollum wrote in a public letter, after the incident. “But until I receive a formal, written apology from your organization I must inform you that AIPAC representatives are not welcome in my offices or for meetings with my staff.”

McCollum has long staked out lonely territory on U.S-Israel relations.

Last year, McCollum voted against a resolution condemning Global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS), a movement that aims to apply political pressure on Israel through tactics like boycotting Israeli products.

In 2017, McCollum organized a letter with 18 other members, sent to then-Secretary of State John Kerry about the mistreatment of Palestinian children. Israeli security forces have detained more than 10,000 Palestinian children since 2000, and the U.S. State Department has documented numerous instances of human rights abuses against Palestinian minors in Israeli prisons since at least 2013. Last year, McCollum reintroduced H.R. 2407, which would prohibit the use of U.S. military funding by Israel to detain Palestinian children.

An apology

In early February, AIPAC released a statement responding to the controversy generated by the ad, and representatives from the organization spent part of last Wednesday meeting with Democrats on Capitol Hill. They apologized, but not to McCollum. Instead, they suggested that their language should have more precisely implicated Democrats like McCollum, instead of the whole party.

“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 read.

McCollum’s chief of staff, Harper, said that AIPAC’s statement clearly was not an apology. “It was an attack, and they were covering their bases,” he said.

McCollum didn’t receive a public apology from AIPAC in 2006, either. And because of this escalation, on Friday, she told +972 Magazine, a left-leaning, Tel Aviv-based publication, that she has no plans to meet with AIPAC in the future: “Why would I meet with someone who thinks that I’m worse than a terrorist?”

Comments (28)

  1. Submitted by Keith Ford on 02/18/2020 - 10:15 am.

    Good for you, Cong. McCollum!

    • Submitted by Carin Peterson on 02/18/2020 - 05:40 pm.

      McCollum is a sitting member of Congress. SHE has EARNED respect not shown by an org that uses terroristic tactics to get its own way!

      AIPAC uses no holes barred , you dare not question ANYTHING we say or we label YOU a terrorist?
      Why on earth should ANY member of Congress meet with them until they have fully and sincerely apologized?

      They shouldn’t!
      AIPAC are lobbyists. Meh.

      Israel is our ally.
      That does not excuse inhumane treatment.
      Then again … these days…we are hardly one to talk!

      • Submitted by Jim Marshal on 02/18/2020 - 09:43 pm.

        Israel isn’t my ally. Israel is a country that supported lboth Rhodesia and South Africa during their apartheid struggles. Helping them smuggle diamonds, gold and tobacco to keep those regimes alive as long as they could.. if Israel is our ally, God help us.

      • Submitted by Ken Klein on 02/21/2020 - 10:07 am.

        AIPAC & Norm Coleman are staunch Israel supporters
        to their credit. About 15% of American Jews view that
        as a litmus test for voting. The Netanyahu way or the
        highway. The vast majority of American Jews, take
        a broader view of Jewish values, including progressive
        teachings about tolerance. This doesn’t imply as some
        suggest capitulation to terrorists. Wealth does not make
        AIPAC’s views noble, though they intimidate many
        politicians in both parties. Fortunately not Betty. As
        for our Imposter in Chief, it is always about transactions
        with Evangelicals, Orthodox Jews, the Alt- Right,
        whatever coalition he can fool, bribe, or join. With
        a wink and a nod. Very few past presidents of Israel
        would have enabled him in this ugly way.

  2. Submitted by Ray J Wallin on 02/18/2020 - 10:19 am.

    Meeting with AIPAC is a great chance for Betty to take a leadership role and build a bridge where there seems to be none.

    She would also be setting an example for our cancel culture by showing that adults can move beyond divisiveness to create a productive relationship.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 02/18/2020 - 10:50 am.

      Or, it could look like she is grovelling before a powerful lobby and giving validation to what they say.

      She is a member of Congress. Lobbyists are supposed to be asking for her understanding.

      • Submitted by Ray J Wallin on 02/18/2020 - 11:46 am.

        Yes, it could look like she is grovelling. (like the cancel culture would presume)

        Then again, if she built a bridge, it would show our youth that she is a leader who seeks positive relationships.

        • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 02/18/2020 - 12:26 pm.

          AIPAC is the one who threw out the accusations. It is up to them to reach out and apologize.

          You break it, you fix it.

          • Submitted by Ray J Wallin on 02/18/2020 - 12:54 pm.

            Unless you are a leader that has direction. If she wants to form or continue a relationship with AIPAC, now is the perfect time.

            • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 02/18/2020 - 01:52 pm.

              Once again: She is a member of Congress. Why should she exert any effort to ingratiate herself with a lobby that has thrown around such vicious accusations?

              Normally, lobbyists (and that’s what AIPAC is, a lobbying group) try to build bridges with representatives. Has AIPAC become so important that members of Congress must jump to do its bidding?

  3. Submitted by M Olson on 02/18/2020 - 11:12 am.

    Way to go Betty! We can support democracy in Israel and seek solutions at the same time.

  4. Submitted by Shirley Johnson on 02/18/2020 - 11:14 am.

    Thank you, Ms. McCollum. I am proud to have you representiing me in Washington. please continue to do what you can to protect the Palestinian children.

  5. Submitted by Sandra Nelson on 02/18/2020 - 12:42 pm.

    Thank you, Representative McCollum, for taking a stand against a right wing organization that promotes apartheid.

  6. Submitted by tom kendrick on 02/18/2020 - 12:45 pm.

    If AIPAC met with Democratic leaders, to the exclusion of Congresswoman McCollum, the Dems need to unify and protect a very courageous leader. We need many more such straight talkers as our representative. She is keeping hope alive. Go, Betty!

  7. Submitted by Mark Voorhees on 02/18/2020 - 02:13 pm.

    I’m very glad we have Representative McCollum in our state. She’s a noble and strong person.

  8. Submitted by Richard Steuland on 02/19/2020 - 01:41 am.

    Thank you, Congress woman. Thank goodness we ahave a principled lady representing Minnesota. The hateful tactics of AIPAC give the Jews a black eye. True the their standard procedure this lobby is out to destroy this fine woman’s career and reputation. Throwing out smear tactics and baseless accusations. My hope is that this is the beginning of the end of the Israeli lobbies stranglehold over policy. It’s high time the Palestinian people are given a fair shake. Minnesota can proudly claim two hero’s that fight for justice for all.Shame on the Israelilobby for presenting the heavy handed and arrogant representation of Israelis.

  9. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 02/19/2020 - 06:22 am.

    Most Minnesota Jews are Leftists first and Jews second. She knows where her campaign contributions come from.

  10. Submitted by Tom Crain on 02/19/2020 - 11:29 am.

    I support my Rep Betty McCollum for standing up to AIPAC and other Zionist groups.

  11. Submitted by Mikhail Shvartsman on 02/20/2020 - 05:00 am.

    Her hostile view of Israel is old news. She has an ample voting record supporting financial support to Palestinian terrorist groups such as Hamas, under guise of supporting Palestinian “children”. Too bad that “children” fire so many missiles at Israel from their “kindergartens” in Gaza.

    • Submitted by Richard Steuland on 02/20/2020 - 05:09 pm.

      American media shows an extreme bias when reporting on the events and participants . Israelis are “ settlers”, Palestinians are “ Terrorists”. No matter that these Palestinians have lived there for thousands upon thousands of years. The European Converts to Judaism have no historical basis to claim ownership. The bias towards Israelis is wearing thin as truth and exposure bring fresh insight. The majority of Israelis desire peace and goodwill towards Arab neighbors. The minority with its ability to shape the narrative with extreme bias is comming to its end. It serves no good to destroy another as it sows the seeds of ones own destruction.

  12. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 02/20/2020 - 09:56 am.

    McCullum’s reference to “weaponized” antisemitism is spot on. As the immoral and illegal nature of the Israeli Apartheid policy emerges from the fog of history public opinion will recognize the plight of Palestinians struggling for legitimate sovereignty. AIPAC can characterize that awareness as antisemitism if they want but that stance will only alienate them further.

    The Israeli government agenda pursuing a “One State” solution that creates Palestinian reservations similar to our Indian reservations in the US is simply a recipe for perpetual violence. This is a “solution” the Palestinians will never accept. Clearly there are those in the government who have decided that the price of ongoing violence is worth the purchase of continued colonization but the question is whether or not the people of Israel share that decision?

    In the meantime those who call everyone who want’s peace terrorists will likely be revealed as the architects of perpetual violence and struggle. The more Americans see of this ongoing struggle the more legitimate becomes the question of who’s terrorizing whom?

  13. Submitted by Joe Sherin on 02/20/2020 - 08:15 pm.

    Thanks Betty for having the courage to speak up against AIPAC…most politicians aren’t secure enough re their electability to take them on…they’re more concerned with getting reelected than they are with the atrocities being inflected on the Palestinians…for more background check out the If Americans New website…being anti Zionist doesn’t equate to being antisemitic

  14. Submitted by Scot Kindschi on 02/23/2020 - 05:22 pm.

    It is so how ignorance is spread. Can people truly “not” understand the difference between anti Semitsm, and anti Israel. I have absolutely “no time” for Israel.

  15. Submitted by Carl Brookins on 03/02/2020 - 11:51 am.

    Yet another example of how Trump’s slash and attack bullying attitudes have ramped up insulting attitudes and public disagreements.

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