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By: Dave Gordon

The largest pro-Israel gathering in the United States took place March 24th to 26th in Washington, DC at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) annual policy conference.

For three days, scores of top-ranking political officials – including Vice President Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo – boasted unequivocal, unwavering support for the State of Israel.

Speech themes revolved around partisan divisiveness, sanctions against Iran, rocket attacks against Israel, and the recent United States recognition of the Golan Heights as part of Israel’s sovereign territory. Every official who mentioned the anti-Israel BDS movement (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) condemned it.

Major announcements included future Israel embassy moves to Jerusalem by Romania’s Prime Minister Viorica Dăncilă, and Honduras’ President Juan Orlando Hernandez.

Speakers at the conference constantly criticized the controversial Democrat congresswoman from Minnesota, Ilhan Abdullahi Omar.

Omar’s statements, such as “Israel has hypnotized the world,” and “the U.S. government was bankrolled by the Benjamin’s” (i.e. Jews) are clearly anti-Semitic, and have been condemned by leading voices in the Jewish community.

Vice President Mike Pence’s Statements

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence stated that “history has already proven [Trump] to be the greatest friend of the Jewish people, and the State of Israel, ever to sit in the Oval Office of the
White House.”

Pence cited a number of the president’s pro-Israel moves, including the U.S. shut down of the Washington branch of the Palestinian Authority (as a consequence for the P.A.’s funding terror), the ending of tax money funding for UN-run Palestinian schools, the moving of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, and recent recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

 “We stand with Israel because her cause is our cause, her values are our values, and her fight is our fight…because we believe in right over wrong, in good over evil, in liberty over tyranny,” V.P. Pence said.

In addition, he touted the end of the “disastrous nuclear deal with Iran” that has been replaced with “a maximum-pressure campaign” of sanctions, thereby causing the Iranian economy to tailspin.

“There’ll be no more pallets of cash to the mullahs in Iran,”
Pence proclaimed.

In a swipe at the other side of the political aisle, Pence seared the Democrats. “It’s astonishing to think that the party of HarryTruman, which did so much to help create the State of Israel, has been
co-opted by people who promote rank, anti-Semitic rhetoric, and work to undermine the broad American consensus of support for Israel.”

Without mentioning her name, he referred to Omaras “a freshman Democrat in Congress” who “trafficked in repeated anti-Semitic tropes, alleged congressional support for Israel reflected an ‘allegiance to a foreign country’… and she accused Americans who support Israel of being bought off by
campaign contributions.”

As parting shot, he said “the party that has been the home of so many American Jews for so long today struggled to muster the votes to unequivocally condemn anti-Semitism in a resolution.”

Nikki Haley’s Appearance

Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley’s first comments at the conference attacked the U.N.’s hypocrisy.

She noted the recent rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel and said, “You know, what's interesting is at the U.N., I can guarantee you this morning it is radio silent.”

Haley continued, “They are not saying anything about Hamas, they're not saying anything about the lives lost, they're not saying anything. But if it was any one of those countries, they'd be calling an emergency Security Council meeting.”

Still, she expressed hope that the U.N. will have a change of heart soon, given that “the majority of the general membership of the U.N. voted for a resolution that acknowledged Hamas, and acknowledged the terror that they were spreading, and acknowledged how badthey were.”

In private counsel with “a couple of Arab countries” during her tenure, Haley said that they understood Hezbollah and Hamas were terror organizations, but they still had to vote against Israel “for our constituents.”

“It was like everybody was bullying this kid in the corner, and it was abusive, and it was wrong, and it was just unwarranted,” Haley said.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo Weighs In

Mike Pompeo said he became the first American Secretary of State to visit the Western Wall, and “the first high ranking American official to do that with an Israeli prime minister.”

Pompeo spoke of the “cancer metastasizing” of anti-Semitism on a global scale, spread in the media, on campuses, and “supported by certain members of Congress.” Anti-Semitism includes anti-Zionism and BDS, he said.

 “Criticizing Israel's policies is an acceptable thing to do in a democracy. It's what we do. But criticizing the very right to exist of Israelis is not acceptable. Anti-Zionism denies the very legitimacy of the Israeli state, and of the Jewish people.”

Anti-Semitism is growing, Pompeo believes, because youth are ignorant about the Holocaust, professors are slanted against Israel, journalists can’t be bothered to present all of the facts, and politicians think itwins votes.

Meanwhile, the Trump-era sanctions against Iran have had a domino effect on its funding client, Hezbollah, as its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, “recently begged for contributions” from those they “subjugated and terrorized.”

“Nasrallah passing the tin cup is good news,” Pompeo said.

Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer Applauds Democrats’ Support of Israel

Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer called for a “united front, Democrats and Republicans together,” adding that he was proud that “the overwhelming majority of Democrats” are not only pro-Israel, but also supported the Taylor Force Act, which removed US tax funding from the Palestinian Authority as a consequence for bankrolling acts of terror.

 “Not only is it demonstratively false tosay Democrats are anti-Israel, it also hurts the Israel-U.S. relationship,” he chided.

Schumer also railed against the BDS movement, adding that “its founders, and too many of its supporters, do not believe the Jewish people have a right to any state in their homeland, whatever its size and boundaries.”

U.S. Ambassador David Friedman
on Trump and Iran

David Friedman, U.S. Ambassador to Israel, claimed that Trump is “Israel's greatest ally ever to reside in the White House, and to think otherwise, please, take a deep breath, and think about it some more.”

Friedman cited America’s current sanctioning of Iran as one example, and he criticized how the previous administration paid the Islamic Republic $100 billion in the hopes that Iran would

“What did Iran with all its newly-found treasure?” Friedman asked. “Did it build up its civilian institutions? Did it improve the quality of life of its citizens?”

Instead, he said, it “doubled down on terrorist activity in Yemen, in Iraq, and in Lebanon. It increased its stock of ballistic missiles, and it invested in military bases in Syria on Israel's northern border.”

Friedman credited an Israeli intelligence mission that captured tons of Iranian military documents as providing the lynchpin evidence that revealed “Iran lied to everyone about its nuclear intentions.”

Netanyahu’s Address Delivered Remotely

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered an address via satellite. He initially planned to take the podium in person, but returned to Israel in order to deal with the recent rocket attacks from Gaza.

 “The Golan Heights is indispensable for our defence,” Netanyahu said of the area in the north of Israel, which Israel captured from Syria in the Six Day War in 1967.

“It's part of our history. When you put a shovel in the ground there what you discover are the ruins of ancient synagogues. Jews lived there for thousands of years and the people of Israel have come back to the Golan,” Netanyahu said.

With a subtle jab at Congresswoman Omar, Netanyahu explained how he thought her comments, and comments like hers, are anti-Semitic.

“Again, the Jews are cast as a force for evil. Again, the Jews are charged withdisloyalty. Again, the Jews are said to have too much influence, too much power, too much money. Take it fromthis Benjamin, it’s not about the Benjamin’s,” he said.

“The reason the people of America support Israel is not because they want our money, it’s because they share our values. It’s because America and Israel share a love of freedom and democracy. It's because we cherish individual rights and the rule of law. It's because we don’t judge people by the color of their skin, their religion, or their sexual orientation,” Netanyahu said.

Two Democratic Presidential Hopefuls Attend

Senators Cory Booker (NJ) and Kirsten Gillibrand (NY) were the only two Democrat presidential hopefuls to offer speeches at the convention hall, post-conference. (Many interpreted this type of snub to indicate that the two senators believed that standing by Israel, even in a bi-partisan setting, would cause those in the party’s left-wing base to bristle.)

During Booker’s unscripted remarks, he expressed his admiration of Israelfor its scientific advances.

He spoke of a visit to a Tel Aviv water reclamation plant “that put any efforts in America to shame. They are exporting that technology to people who have sworn to destroy them. This is the power of Israel.” Meanwhile, he added that he saw in Be’er Sheba “the progress they are making in biotech” aimed at curing Parkinson’s and dementia, which his own father succumbed to.

Gillibrand said that Israel is “one of the most important alliances we have in the entire world. It’s an alliance based on our shared democratic values, our multicultural societies, our shared understanding that the Jewish people have the same right to
self-determination as every other group in the world.”

Though Gillibrand condemned the BDS movement – “used often as the vehicle of anti-Semitism” – she also said that she would not participate in legislation that would give states the right to stop doing business with companies who boycott Israel.

“I cannot and will not make laws that weaken our First Amendmentrights,” she said. “The best way to beat the BDS movement is to win the war of ideas. Because, I promise you, I want to stop it as much as you do.”

Meanwhile, the president’s move to stop aid to the Palestinian Authority is a foreign policy decision withwhich she “strongly disagrees.”

“The economic punishment has done absolutely nothing to bring Abbas to the table,” she said. “He’s an unwilling partner in peace. But it has pushed too many Palestinians’ young hearts and minds to the side where they see no future for the State of Israel in the Middle East.”

“Dispersed Jews of Arab Lands” Addressed

In a session called Dispersed Jews of Arab Lands, four panellists called for more recognition of Mizrachi and Sephardic refugees.

Rabbi Elie Abadie, from the Edmond J. Safra Synagogue, had lamented that for generations “Many people said, ‘Don’t speak about our refugees because they’ll talk about theirs.’ But they’ve talked about theirs for 70 years.”

It was only recently in Israel that the Sephardic population has come to be represented in textbooks. Rabbi Abadie spoke of the Biton Committee, launched by then-Education Minister Naftali Bennett, which encouraged Israeli schools to teach about Sephardic Jews (though it is not compulsory, he said).

In the United States, legislators have recognized the plight of Mizrachi and Sephardic Jews. In 2008, Congress passed Resolution 185, and in 2016, HR 4664, both acknowledging Jews displaced from Arab countries. Still to come, he added, is some kind of recognition that a quarter million of Shoah victims were Sephardic Jews.

Sarah Levin, Executive Director of Jimena (Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa) said the “easiest answer” as to why not much is being taught about Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews is because they comprise of but a fifth of America’s Jews. “But, I do think things are changing,” she said. “That is attributed a lot of young organizations that are led by young Sephardic and Mizrahi Jewish leaders who are doing an amazing job to raise awareness and engage their communities – and the mainstream Jewish community – in the experience and heritage of Jews from North Africa and the Middle East.”

Carole Basri, Visiting Professor from the Peking University School of Transnational Law, noted that, “we have to get everyone to understand how central it is that over half the Jews in Israel are Jews from Arab countries.”

In Conclusion

The AIPAC 2019 conference was a resounding success, and sent a message to Israel’s supporters and detractors alike that Israel has a broad base of support. The speakers included top Israeli and American politicians from all major parties. They demonstrated that, despite all of our Israel’s detractors, Israel enjoys support that cuts across political party, religious, and ethnic lines in the United States.

One of the major themes spoken about by both Democrats and Republican officials was the importance of bipartisanship, especially in support of Israel. The message at AIPAC was clear: we applaud the special relationship between the U.S. and Israel, and will do whatever it takes to support the Jewish State.