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AIPAC Policy Conference 2019

--by Adam Malev

On March 24th-26th, I had the opportunity to attend the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference in Washington D.C. with Temple Beth El Center. The conference featured speeches from numerous political celebrities, including Vice President Mike Pence and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. There were over 18,000 attendees packed into the massive Washington Convention Center. I enjoyed my experience at AIPAC, as I listened to speeches from influential world leaders, gained new perspectives on the importance of Israel to the US, and learned more about some of the most important global issues affecting our world. 

AIPAC was the All-Star Game of American and Israeli politics. Dozens of major US politicians and many foreign leaders showed their support for Israel by attending the conference. The first session that Sunday morning started off with announcements from the Honduran President and Romanian Prime Minister that their countries would be officially moving their embassies from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, following the precedent set by Donald Trump of recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. 

The next morning’s general session featured true political legends. These speakers included NYC Mayor DeBlasio, Space IL co-founder Yonatan Weintraub and backer Morris Khan (who sent an Israeli rocket to the moon last month), Israeli politician Benny Gantz, Vice President Mike Pence, and former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley. After an opening speech by Arthur Brooks emphasizing bipartisanship, these speakers addressed the 18,000 attendees. Benny Gantz, head of Israel’s Blue and White Party and main challenger to Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu (often nicknamed “Bibi”), subtly opposed Bibi, saying leaders shouldn’t be racist or corrupt. These comments stem from the fact that Netanyahu has known charges of racism, bribery and fraud. Gantz furthered his opposition, declaring that the Western Wall is long enough for everyone. This statement addressed the dispute between egalitarian and orthodox Jews’ opinions on who should be able to pray at the Western Wall. These remarks by Gantz distinguished him from Bibi and were an attempt to gain support his candidacy for the upcoming April election in Israel. Despite his semi-divisive statements given in a comically thick Israeli accent, Gantz’s speech declared that Israel’s secret weapon is unity and he showed his support for Bibi’s abrupt return to Israel after a terror attack the previous night. 

Despite leaving AIPAC early, Bibi spoke via satellite the following day, reiterating the praise expressed by numerous other AIPAC speakers for Trump’s executive order recognizing the Golan Heights as part of Israel and for relocating the United States embassy to Jerusalem. Although, Bibi’s speech was full of technical difficulties with the screen freezing or distorting his words at various points of his address, his points were clear. Vice President Mike Pence’s speech that Monday had addressed many similar issues, yet his speech was blatantly pro-Trump. Pence, and several others, stated that Trump is “Israel’s greatest ally ever to reside in the White House,” repeatedly praising his decisions to move embassy, his executive order (signed while AIPAC was in session) declaring the Golan Heights (a disputed territory acquired in 1967) as part of Israel, and his shutdown of Palestine Liberation Organization offices when they wouldn’t stop funding terrorists. All of these were actions that AIPAC attendees were supported, but the repetitive nature of the references to the same few accomplishments made many speeches seem monotonous. Pence spiced it up by playing the partisan card, criticizing Democratic candidates for not speaking at AIPAC (though many did meet with AIPAC lobbyists) and seemingly referencing Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, saying that a Congresswoman who claims that elected officials who support Israel have dual loyalties shouldn’t have a role on the Foreign Affairs Committee. 

Few other speeches seemed as impactful as those made by Pence, Gantz, and Bibi. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senator Chuck Schumer, Senator Mitch McConnell, and Congressman Kevin McCarthy repeated the denouncements of anti-Semitism and emphasized of the importance of Israel to US interests. 

Nikki Haley’s Monday morning appearance received the most crowd support of any speaker, as her support for Israel during her time representing the United States in the United Nation was greatly appreciated by AIPAC members. When Nikki Haley went on stage, you would have thought everyone in the audience just won a new car, as there was major excitement surrounding her appearance. Haley described the anti-Israel bias in the UN, the U.S. pullout of the Iran Deal, and U.S. support for Israel, as well as stating that most UN members side with Israel “but have to do what constituent states want.” 

Throughout the conference, many speakers described the benefits the US gains from having Israel as an ally. On the first day of AIPAC, U.S. Admiral James Stavridis summarized the three main benefits the US receives from Israel. 

Israel shares American values, being the only free democracy in the Middle East, is a center for innovation (Israel is often called the “start-up nation”), and has a strategic location to be a U.S. ally.

Of course, Israel benefits greatly from having the U.S. as an ally, as the U.S. protects Israel in global forums such as the UN, supports Israel by encouraging American allies to align themselves with Israel, and provides military support.

A major concern surrounding AIPAC was the rise of global anti-Semitism, which Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accurately described in his address. Pompeo stated that the rise of anti-Semitism is caused by young people forgetting the relevance of the global travesty that happened after the last global rise in anti-Semitism (the Holocaust), as well as smaller instances, including pinning Israel as the “epitome of imperalism”, as well as certain instances of lacking critical thinking among journalists. 

Overall, attending AIPAC was a great experience where I was able to hear from influential world leaders, learn about issues impacting the world and proposed solutions, and strengthen my understanding of the importance of Israel to the U.S. and of the U.S. to Israel. 

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