In the days preceding the AIPAC annual conference in Washington, there was plenty of buzz online coming from opponents of Israel and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s administration that this year’s event would fall short of the storied organization’s policy of maintaining bipartisan support for Israel.
“The influx of progressive candidates confirming that they will not attend – even those who have gone in years past – shows how the momentum is shifting,” said Iram Ali, campaign director at MoveOn, in a statement on March 21 to The Hill, an online news site.
While there has been a shift among Democrats, especially the younger members of the party, toward a more critical view of Israel, the party’s majority leader in the House of Representatives, Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, spoke in a defiant tone in favor of the American-Israeli alliance. “I stand with Israel, proudly and unapologetically. So, when someone accuses American supporters of Israel of dual loyalty, I say: Accuse me. I am part of a large, bipartisan coalition in Congress supporting Israel. I tell Israel’s detractors: Accuse us.”
Hoyer’s words at the AIPAC convention signaled a direct rebuke of his freshman colleague Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota who was on the opposite coast of the country speaking at the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). Hoyer spoke of his numerous past visits to Israel, where he led his colleagues on tours. “This August I will lead what I expect to be the largest delegation ever,” Hoyer said. “There are 62 freshman Democrats. You hear me? Sixty-two – not three.” Without providing names, he presumably meant Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Likewise, New York City mayor Bill de Blasio refused to concede his self-affiliation as a progressive to opponents of Israel, who regard progressive politics as incompatible with Zionism. “The vast majority of Democrats support the State of Israel. The vast majority of Progressives support the State of Israel. And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise,” said de Blasio.
Concerning the absence of Democratic presidential candidates from this year’s forum, the early cheers of political leftists appeared unfounded. When asked why he wasn’t attending the AIPAC convention, Pete Buttigieg told Washington Post reporter Dave Weigel that he was not invited. “He doesn’t rule out going in the future,” reported Weigel. AIPAC confirmed that as this is not a presidential election year, it did not invite candidates running for president.
Vice President Mike Pence was invited to the event, as are Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley. The leading Democrat in Washington, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, spoke on Tuesday, as did her Republican Senate counterpart, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. “Israel and America are connected now and forever. We will never allow anyone to make Israel a wedge issue,” said Pelosi. At separate venues, four Democratic presidential candidates met with AIPAC activists from their states: Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Amy Klobuchar. Their meetings with pro-Israel activists showed that the pro-Israel vote still matters for many Democratic candidates.
As with previous AIPAC conventions, the speakers represented not only domestic and Israeli figures, but other countries with friendly ties to Israel. Last year, Guatemala followed the United States in relocating its embassy to Jerusalem. This year, another Central American nation is making history in favor of Israel.
“Today I have announced the first step, which is to open a trade office in Jerusalem, the capital of the State of Israel, and this will be an extension of our embassy in Tel Aviv,” announced Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez. “I’ve said that a second step will draw a lot of attacks from the enemies of Israel and the United States, but we will continue along this path.” Honduras hinted at recognizing Jerusalem as the Israeli capital in 2017 when it joined Guatemala in voting against an UN resolution condemning President Donald Trump’s relocation of the US Embassy.
In defiance of European Union policy, Romanian Prime Minister Viorica Dăncilă also spoke at AIPAC last Sunday in favor of recognizing Jerusalem. “The Government of Romania has initiated a process of assessing the opportunity to move the Romanian Embassy to Jerusalem.” She was congratulated online by Netanyahu shortly after her announcement, but later in the day, Romanian President Klaus Iohannis firmly rebuked Dăncilă as “ignorant” of foreign affairs, noting that the “final decision” rested with him.
The West African island nation of Cabo Verde was represented at AIPAC by its prime minister, José Ulisses Correia E Silva, who also announced plans towards opening his country’s embassy in Jerusalem “as soon as possible.” Silva’s speech at AIPAC follows his visit to Israel last week, where he met with President Reuven Rivlin.
Along with its bipartisan approach, the other source of pride for AIPAC is its outreach to communities, which includes events and delegates from across the country, representing every demographic, with 18,000 participants in this year’s conference. It was heartening to see that the toxic BDS message of Black Lives Matter and the Women’s March is being countered by educated student leaders of many backgrounds at Arizona State University, Spellman College, Morehouse University, and the University of Maryland, who were represented on stage this year. They are among hundreds of student leaders active with AIPAC that include community colleges, liberal arts schools, historically black schools, women’s colleges, public universities, and the Ivy League.
“We build coalitions and we are active in all 50 states. And we do our work for all to see,” said AIPAC CEO Howard Kohr. “We will not stop. When they tell us to step back, we move forward. When they try to silence us, we speak up, and when they tell us to sit down, we stand up.”
By Sergey Kadinsky