On Friday, President Donald Trump took a few swipes at Democrats who have announced that they won’t be attending the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) annual conference in Washington, singling out some of his potential rivals in the 2020 general election. According to a report in The Hill, Trump’s comments are just his latest attempt to stir up divisions among prominent Democrats while burnishing his pro-Israel bona fides.
“I don’t know what’s happened to them but they are totally anti-Israel,” Trump said before a gathering of reporters on the White House south lawn.
“Frankly, I think they’re anti-Jewish.”
Trump’s comments open up recent wounds from the internal conflict that consumed the Democratic Party when freshman lawmaker Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota drew fire over comments criticizing lawmakers who appear to base their legislative positions on what big donors want, including powerful lobbying organizations like AIPAC.
“It’s all about the benjamins, baby,” Omar tweeted at the time, a remark some construed as anti-Semitic. Her assertions that lawmakers’ loyalty to AIPAC constitute “allegiance to a foreign country” also drew criticism.
However, progressive advocacy groups and left-leaning Democrats forced party leadership to back off somewhat, just as they were crafting a rebuke of Omar. The result was instead a general statement condemning all hate speech. Those same groups have persuaded a number of Democratic presidential candidates to skip the AIPAC event, including Sens. Kamala Harris of California, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. Rep. Julian Castro and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, both of Texas, have also declined to attend.
With his Friday comments, Trump shifted away from his days-long criticism of deceased former Senator John McCain of Arizona to take aim at Democrats — and to celebrate his recent pro-Israeli actions, likely with an aim to shore up his support among Jewish-Americans.
On Thursday, Trump surprised allies and foes alike when he called for the U.S. to recognize the area known as the Golan Heights as part of Israel, despite the fact that it was captured from Syria in 1967. Israel’s claims to the territory have been rejected by the U.N. and have been condemned by the international community – including the U.S. – ever since.
“After 52 years it is time for the United States to fully recognize Israel’s Sovereignty over the Golan Heights,” Trump tweeted on Thursday, saying the area has “…critical strategic and security importance to the State of Israel and Regional Stability!”
That announcement seemed to cement the relationship between Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is facing an uphill re-election battle as he fights accusations of corruption. Netanyahu is scheduled to visit the White House next week, and he will speak at the AIPAC conference as well.