AIPAC Day 3 roundup

Condemning antisemitic remarks by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) continued to take center stage, on the main stage, during the final day of the AIPAC policy conference.

“Take it from this Benjamin, it’s not about the Benjamins,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, to raucous applause from the audience.

Speaking via live-video feed from Israel, that frequently went on and off, the Israeli premier further addressed Omar’s remarks, saying, “Those who seek to defame this great organization AIPAC, those who seek to undermine American support for Israel, they must be confronted. Despite what they claim, they do not merely criticize the policies of Israel’s government. G-d I’m used to that. That happens every five minutes. They do something else. They spew venom that has long been directed at the Jewish people. Again, the Jews are cast as a force for evil. Again, the Jews are charged with disloyalty. Again, the Jews are said to have too much influence, too much power, too much money. The best way to respond to those who hate the Jews is not to bow down to them. It’s to stand up to them.” [Video]

Earlier, U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman also jumped on Omar’s “Benjamin” comment, saying money doesn’t buy America’s support for Israel. “Just to be clear, we will not do this for the Benjamins. No. We will not do this for the Benjamins.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) built on the theme of antisemitism within the Democratic party and the perception they are boycotting AIPAC. “So I am troubled that leading Democrats seem reluctant to plainly call out problems within their own ranks,” the Leader said during his speech on the main stage Tuesday. “And I am troubled that many of the declared Democrat presidential candidates seem to be avoiding this gathering, apparently because political partisans who have levied scurrilous charges at this organization have warned they will be keeping watch and taking names.”

Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) answered back in his speech, closing out AIPAC’s third day, equating Rep. Omar’s statements about those by President Trump as “fanning the flames” of antisemitism. “So yes, when you imply that money is the only driving factor of a strong U.S.-Israel relationship. You are fanning those flames. And just the same, when you accuse Jews of funding caravans of asylum-seekers at our southern border, or fail to call out and condemn the rise of white supremacy at home and abroad. You are fanning those flames.”

On the floor with AIPAC attendees — Sol Yerushalmi, 32, from Santa Monica, California, said it was “absolutely,” a good idea for Gen. Gantz to speak to the AIPAC conference. “It’s really refreshing to have a strong leader tome out here speak directly to the pro-Israel American community.”

On VP Pence’s speech, “I think it’s bad for AIPAC, for that to have been expressed. I think that the U.S.-Israel relationship is a bipartisan value and there’s disagreements over what that should look and how that should happen but trying to pit people against one party or another is a dangerous slippery-slope we want to avoid. I don’t think it was constructive.”

“He, to me, seems a lot more genuine [compared to Netanyahu] in the way he was speaking to the audience. He’s obviously someone who’s been extremely selfless to his country.”

Rabbi Jonathan Feldeman, from New York, NY, an independent but who leans Republican, said Pence was likely starting the 2020 campaign. On Gantz, he was less impressed. “In a nutshell, he didn’t say anything. ‘I was in the army…’

Marcie Fallek, 66, from Connecticut, said she had to walk out of Vice President Pence’s speech after he claimed “total exoneration” following the completion of the Special Council Robert Mueller’s investigation into the President. “I was fuming. I had to leave,” she said.

Ms. Fallek said that it was important to hear Israeli Blue-White Party leader Benny Gantz speak at the conference and that it helped inform the pro-Israel group about “what’s going on in Israel. So this opened my mind up.”

“I felt his sincerity and his passion and his values…I could just feel his authenticity and I just feel he’s a good man.”

By Laura Kelly in Washington, D.C.

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