Rep. Betty McCollum, a Minnesota Democrat, is refusing to meet with representatives of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee until she receives an apology from the pro-Israel lobbying powerhouse.
McCollum says that, in a recent phone conversation with her chief of staff, an Aipac representative accused the congresswoman of supporting terrorists because she voted against the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006 in committee. AIPAC (The American Israel Public Affairs Committee) — a leading backer of the bill, which was overwhelmingly passed Tuesday by the full House of Representatives — denies McCollum’s accusation and has not issued an apology to the congresswoman.
"Until I receive a formal, written apology from your organization, I must inform you that Aipac representatives are not welcome in my offices for meetings with my staff," McCollum wrote in a recent letter to the organization’s executive director, Howard Kohr.
McCollum’s letter is causing a stir on Capitol Hill, where legislators typically avoid public clashes with the powerful pro-Israel lobby. One Jewish congressman who is known as a leading supporter of Israel and AIPAC, Democrat Gary Ackerman of New York, has issued a statement backing McCollum, in which he described the alleged attempt to accuse her of supporting terrorists as "an approach reminiscent of the Taliban."
Congressional staffers said that the controversy is reverberating on the Hill because Aipac officials have a reputation of being overly aggressive in their lobbying style. "Many members of Congress are sick and tired of AIPAC’s bullying and heavy-handed tactics," said a senior congressional staffer, speaking on condition of anonymity.
McCollum is one of two members of the House International Relations Committee who voted against the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006 on Tuesday, an AIPAC-backed bill that imposes strong limitations on the American government’s ability to maintain relations with or send aid to the Palestinian Authority (P.A.) as long as it is run by a Hamas-led government.
In an April 27 statement on the House floor, McCollum highlighted sections in the bill that would make it difficult for the administration and for nongovernmental organizations to provide humanitarian aid to the Palestinians. As a result, she said, the bill would further destabilize the situation on the ground between Israelis and Palestinians "while fueling a humanitarian crisis."
The feud comes as debate intensifies over the question of how to deal with Hamas, which refuses to recognize Israel or disavow terrorism. On Tuesday, the chief of staff of the Israeli military, Dan Halutz, predicted that economic pressure on the Hamas-led Palestinian government would fail to bring about its downfall. He warned that external pressure could end up boosting popular support for the Islamic fundamentalist organization.
Jewish organizations in America were divided over the AIPAC-backed bill, which imposes severe limitations on the American government’s ability to maintain relations with or send aid to the Palestinian Authority as long as it is run by Hamas. The House vote was hailed by several influential Jewish organizations, including AIPAC. But liberal groups, including Americans for Peace Now and the Israel Policy Forum, have come out against the measure, saying it could undercut America’s and Israel’s national security needs by denying the Bush administration flexibility in dealing with the Palestinian Authority and by deepening poverty and chaos in the territories.
Palestinian independent legislative councilmember Mustapha Barghouti commented on the bill in an interview with the IMEMC, saying, "This resolution is not balanced. It’s against all Palestinians, and it’s an additional act of collective punishment. I hope it will not pass the Senate and become a law, because if it does, it will be a big problem for all Palestinians, not just for Hamas. And by the way, these sanctions are not hurting Hamas — they hurt the ordinary Palestinians: doctors, nurses, patients who are unable to get their medications. This is not the right way to do things."