Betty McCollum calls AIPAC a 'hate group'

The pro-Israel lobbying group featured Rep. Betty McCollum in a Facebook ad about Democratic "radicals" being "anti-Semitic" and "anti-Israel."

The pro-Israel lobbying group featured Rep. Betty McCollum in a Facebook ad about Democratic "radicals" being "anti-Semitic" and "anti-Israel." Brian Peterson, Star Tribune

On January 28, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee—a pro-Israel lobbying outfit better known as “AIPAC”—started running a new Facebook ad.

“The radicals in the Democratic Party are pushing their anti-Semitic and anti-Israel policies down the throats of the American people,” it said. “America should never abandon its only democratic ally in the Middle East.”

The ad included a picture of three United States Congresswomen: Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, and DFL U.S. Reps. Ilhan Omar and Betty McCollum of Minnesota. Another ad allegedly included a link to a petition that 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 United States.”

Omar was denounced by many of her colleagues and constituents after a series of tweets critical of the lobbying group last year. This time, it's their turn to be sorry. AIPAC yanked the ads last week after criticism, and tweeted out an apology to the “overwhelming majority” of Democrats, calling the ads' wording “imprecise” and the message “distorted.”

McCollum's still not satisfied. She issued a statement Wednesday calling AIPAC “a hate group” that was “weaponizing anti-Semitism” against her.

“Elected representatives in Congress ‘more sinister’ than ISIS?” McCollum's statement asked. “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?”

Though it's the freshman Omar who gets more headlines and scrutiny, McCollum has been one of Congress’s strongest critics of Israel's Palestinian policy for a while. She says she is, in fact, pro-Israel, and that she views Israel as an important ally to the United States, but she’s never hesitated to call out human rights abuses. Last year, she introduced HR 2407, a bill that would prohibit Israel from using U.S. military funds to detain Palestinian children.

“AIPAC wants its followers to believe that my bill… to protect Palestinian children from being interrogated, abused, and even tortured in Israeli military prisons is a threat more sinister than ISIS,” her statement continued. “This is not empty political rhetoric. It is hate speech.”

On Twitter, McCollum called AIPAC’s statement on the matter a “non-apology” and “just another attack.”

Omar hasn't weighed in herself, but retweeted McCollum’s statement.

It’s not the first time McCollum has gone toe-to-toe with AIPAC. In 2006, she was one of only 37 members of Congress to vote against the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act, which imposed strict tariffs on Palestine and designated its territories “terrorist sanctuary.” She argued that the bill would make it so hard to get aid to the Palestinian people that “even the State Department had opposed it.”

Later that year, a volunteer lobbying for AIPAC allegedly told McCollum’s office that “support for terrorists would not be tolerated.” (The volunteer denied this happened.)

“You and your colleagues at AIPAC have the right to disagree with my position in any piece of legislation,” she wrote in the New York Review of Books that year, “But for an AIPAC representative to say that I would ever vote to support Middle East terrorists over the interests of my country will never be tolerated by me or the families I serve.”

Writing then, McCollum asked for a “formal, written” apology. She never got one.