In my view: Juda Engelmayer

For AIPAC, record turnout, uncertain future


With all of the uncertainty surrounding Israel, the Middle East and Iran, suggesting the true takeaways from this year’s very well attended policy conference that AIPAC hosted in Washington last week may be difficult. AIPAC had to show its 14,000 guests that it was still relevant and necessary for Israel’s future.

As Senate Republicans prepared to vote on the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act [S.1881], AIPAC withdrew its support and seemingly left those supporting it hanging. The bill was likely inspired with input from AIPAC, yet presumably because of immense pressure from the Obama Administration, AIPAC backed away as the bill it helped support was coming to a vote.

This prompted a New York Times piece on Feb. 3, by White House correspondent Mark Landler, which suggested that AIPAC may have lost some of its ability to fight. Using AIPAC’s lost battle over the nomination of Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense, and the stymied attempt to persuade President Obama to take an active role helping stop Syrian citizens from being slaughtered by its own government, Landler claims that the ”Nuclear Free Iran” bill defeat demonstrates the group’s weakness. “The last time the nation’s most potent pro-Israel lobbying group lost a major showdown with the White House was when President Ronald Reagan agreed to sell AWACS surveillance planes to Saudi Arabia over the group’s bitter objections,” Landler wrote, adding that since then, AIPAC enjoyed nothing but victories until recently.

Then there is the divide within American Jewish communities and AIPAC. The organization was making every attempt to show that it supports a two state solution in the Middle East, against the backdrop of a growing contingent in America, including Jewish and Christian groups, that oppose that position.

Secretary of State John Kerry received tepid applause when he presented his well wishes and support for Israel, but his presence indicated that the Obama Administration was taking the appearance at AIPAC seriously. The peace process that AIPAC seems to be backing and that Kerry was promoting was not received as powerfully as the group would have hoped.

When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to the convention attendees, his speech was received well, as seeing a national hero would be, even though his words were tired and a bit clichéd.

He offered, to applause, the often used “Israel is Humane, Israel is Compassionate, Israel is a Force for Good,” and stated that Israel stands on one side of a moral divide, while on the other side were powers that are, “steeped in blood and savagery, [and] stand the forces of terror.”

Netanyahu got a laugh when he suggested that he liked to draw red lines, reflecting on his speech to the United Nations in 2012; and he used a reference to an old Budweiser beer commercial, arguing that Iran’s missiles can already hit Israel, so now its focus is to reach the United States, saying to America, “This scud’s for you.” He firmed it up with a reference that he likely thought would sound better than it did, “If it looks like a duck, if it walks like a duck, if it quacks like a duck, then what is it? Well, it ain’t a chicken — and it’s certainly not a dove. It’s still a nuclear duck.”

Netanyahu reaffirmed that the Jewish people would “never be brought to the brink of extinction again,” and stressed that only more pressure on Iran would get them to end their nuclear ambitions, a clear knock at AIPAC and the President.

“Peace is Israel’s highest aspiration,” Netanyahu said. “I am prepared to make a historic peace with our Palestinian neighbors.” He then cited the benefits to the region and the other Arab nations, like solving water and energy problems and agriculture.

“We can better the lives of hundreds of millions,” he said, praising the “indomitable” Secretary Kerry, but cautioning that a durable peace needs the “mutual recognition of two nation states.”

“It’s time Palestinians stop denying history,” he said, “just as Israel is prepared to recognize a Palestinian state, Palestinians must be prepared to recognize a Jewish state,” and urged Abbas to do so and convince his people to follow.

Just after AIPAC’s conference ended, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was quoted by the Palestinian news agency WAFA saying that he will never recognize Israel as a Jewish State, nor accept a Palestinian capital in just a portion of Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem. The common expectation is to see Israel give up lands in Judea and Samaria, the Jordan Valley and even Jerusalem for Abbas’ “commitment.”

Netanyahu took aim at the boycott movement, saying that BDS is “just plain wrong,” and is “morally wrong,” and he said that we should treat anyone who wears the BDS label as we would any anti-Semite. How can anyone fall for the “BS” in “BDS,” he asked to applause and laughter. “The movement will fail,” Netanyahu said, and that Israel’s technology and innovations are being sought out worldwide.

The high point of the conference was also the clearest position for why Israel needs to remain a strong factor for the world. It also reinforced Netanyahu’s comments on the boycott movement.

Peace is still uncertain, and the Iranian threat remains uncertain, yet the presentation of innovations from Israel technological firms, like OrCam (which can offer sight to the blind), TaKadu (that uses its technology to help governments and companies detect water leaks to save billions of gallons of fresh water and billions of dollars lost), and ElMindA (a non-invasive functional brain mapping technology that diagnoses and monitors cognitive disorders such as in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson diseases, ADHD, brain injuries and other neurological syndromes with the hope of prevention and cure), are proof that Israel can indeed help the entire world.