Steny Hoyer at AIPAC condemns Israel boycott, divestment movement

March 25, 2019

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer reaffirmed his party’s commitment to defending Israel on Sunday and explicitly denounced the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

Mr. Hoyer, in a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual conference in Washington, also pushed back against Republican accusations that Democrats are souring on Israel after the party’s struggles with a lawmaker’s remarks, which Congress deemed anti-Semitic.

“We must stand firm in this fight together,” the Maryland Democrat said. “Support for Israel must never be a partisan issue or perceived to be a partisan issue. Because it isn’t.”

Mr. Hoyer directly condemned anti-semitic tropes, such as implying pro-Israel lawmakers have dual loyalty.

Freshman Rep. Ilhan Omar, one of two Muslim Democratic women who took seats in Congress this year, lodged such a dual-loyalty allegation against Jewish lawmakers. That came after she first suggested those who support Israel are bought by Jewish money.

Republicans have seized on each of the controversies to argue that Democrats have become the party of anti-Semitism.

“The Democrats have very much proven to be anti-Israel. There’s no question about that,” President Trump said last week. “I don’t know what’s happened to them but they are totally anti-Israel. Frankly, I think they’re anti-Jewish.”

His comments came as several 2020 Democratic presidential candidates avoided addressing the AIPAC conference this year, despite having spoken in the past. They appeared to be heeding calls by liberal groups to boycott AIPAC.

Mr. Hoyer insisted Democrats aren’t divided on support for Israel.

“What weakens us is, instead of engaging in legitimate debate about policies, someone questions the motives of his or her fellow citizens,” he said. “So let’s have debates on policy instead of imputing the loyalty of Israel’s supporters.”

And he seemed to try to isolate Ms. Omar and fellow freshmen Reps. Rashida Tlaib, the other newly elected Muslim woman, and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who is often grouped with them.

“By the way, there are 62 freshman Democrats. Do you hear me? There are 62 not three,” Mr. Hoyer told AIPAC.

He said Democrats will fight the BDS movement, arguing that it is designed to destroy Israel’s right to exist.

“When the curtain is pulled back, everyone can see what the movement truly is,” he said. “A front for delegitimizing the Jewish people’s right to self-determination.”

The GOP-led Senate in February passed a bill that would grant legal protections to states and localities that refuse to do business with BDS participants. Republicans have said the House should pass that bill, but there has been no indication from Democratic House leaders on a floor schedule.

Mr. Hoyer instead said he is backing a new resolution announced last week putting Congress “on record” against BDS. That resolution also calls for a “two-state solution” to the clash between Israel and the Palestinians.

Both Ms. Omar and Ms. Tlaib have come out in support of the BDS movement.

Ms. Tlaib is also countering an annual AIPAC-sponsored trip for members of Congress to Israel with her own outing to the West Bank.