The annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) gathering kicked off in Washington, D.C. on March 1, 2020 during the highly unusual backdrop of both an election in Israel (March 2nd) and the thick of the presidential campaign in the United States (March 3rd). It was an highly opportune time for politicians and candidates to feed red meat to the pro-Israel crowd.
The politicians with some sanity understood that.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) addressed the audience in an unambiguous style that Israel is a strongly bi-partisan matter for Republicans and Democrats alike. He said that a strong Israel is vital for American interests and that he would always stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the strong American ally and oppose any notion of boycotting the Jewish State. Unfortunately, his time slot was right before dinner so much of the crowd was already out the door and didn’t hear it.
In the morning, Senator Amy Klobuchar who is running for president spoke to the crowd via a pre-recorded message. With the U.S. Capital placed on the green screen behind her, she spoke of her long, strong support for Israel and her desire to see peace emerge in the Middle East.
Foreign leaders took the stage to address the 18,000 people, including from Serbia and Congo, who spoke of their strong affinity for the Jewish people. The president of Serbia recalled how his country was quick to back the Balfour Declaration and has always been proud of its relationship of the Jewish community and stated his desire to deepen the connections to the Jewish State. The leader of the Congo quoted scriptures and spoke of his country’s expanding ties with Jerusalem.
And then there was former Vice President Joe Biden. He spoke to the audience via a pre-recorded message that looked like he stepped out of a tour bus into an alleyway to quickly say something to a crowd of people he really preferred not to address. While he said he was pro-Israel, he was not convincing, as he sternly warned the crowd that actions by the Israeli government to approve Jewish housing east of the Green Line risked making Israel a wedge issue in American politics. His meaning was clear: only Republicans would give Israelis unconditional support and the green light to live in Judea and Samaria; a Biden administration would come down hard on Israel.
The Biden video went off with a thud. Whereas the president of Serbia received a standing ovation, the audience was puzzled why Biden would opt to give a speech that was seemingly crafted by staffers from Code Pink and the New Israel Fund.
The thinning Democratic herd just lost Pete Buttigieg and Tom Steyer, and the leaders of AIPAC were faced with the realization that despite their repeated assertions that the group works closely with both Democrats and Republicans, the two front runners of the remaining Democrats were either hostile or ambivalent about Israel and the US-Israel relationship: Bernie Sanders called AIPAC a racist “platform for bigotry,” and Joe Biden said that real friends told friends when they were drunk and took away their car keys.
The new president of AIPAC, Betsy Berns Korn sounded the alarm bell. The emergence of politicians against the U.S.-Israel relationship is not limited to a few fringe freshmen members of Congress. It is working its way through the entire political power structure.
In November 2015, Vice President Biden addressed a progressive Jewish crowd and stabbed a finger at Israel, admonishing the entire Jewish State for something a private Israeli citizen had once said about Obama. In March 2020, Biden continued to admonish the Jewish State with a wave of his finger that the American-Israeli bond was very, very conditional, while Senator Bernie Sanders flipped AIPAC the bird. Will the pro-Israel community raise their hands in surrender or take a fighting stance?
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