Ed note: Welcome to a special Sunday edition of the Daily Kickoff — a guide to the conversations in and around AIPAC’s annual conference, what folks are talking about — from policy to parties, and everything in between:
HAPPENING TONIGHT — We’re told that former Senator Joe Lieberman and Meghan McCain are expected to honor the legacy of the late Senator John McCain at AIPAC’s Sunday evening plenary.
AIPAC CEO ADDRESSES CRITICS: “THIS IS DEFAMATION” — At this morning’s plenary, AIPAC CEO Howard Kohr kicked off the conference by acknowledging the attacks on the organization: “For 22 years, I have had the honor as the leader of AIPAC’s professional staff to take this moment to focus on the agenda for the year ahead … but today, I want to talk to you about our mission and our rights as pro-Israel activists and as proud American citizens because today things are different.”
“We are being challenged in a way that is new and far more aggressive. We have always had critics and detractors, and some have been particularly harsh. But today they are emboldened and energized, and their false claims are taken at face value by new and larger audiences. Those claims are not meant to inform or engage in legitimate debate. They are meant to isolate us and demonize us so they can undermine America’s historic support for Israel. Look at what they say. They say you can’t be a good campus leader and a supporter of Israel. They say you can’t be a good progressive and be a supporter of Israel. And now they are even saying you can’t even be a good American and be a supporter of Israel.”
“This isn’t about having normal policy discussions and debates. This is defamation… and they are trying to silence each of us. The scurrilous charge of dual loyalty is a signal, and that signal — amplified by today’s social media — is now empowering people who have long opposed our cause, our movement, and, frankly, everything we have built… These attacks on all of us are painful; painful precisely because the other side is trying to isolate us from our friends, our neighbors and the other causes and coalitions we care so deeply about. Say this much, they have our attention. But know this much: we will respond!”
2020 DEMS — No presidential candidates were invited to speak this year but that hasn’t stopped MoveOn, a progressive advocacy organization, from pressuring 2020 Democrats to “skip AIPAC.” 2020 Democratic candidates Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Beto O’Rourke, Kamala Harris and Julian Castro are reportedly “skipping the conference” this year. However, as reported in Jewish Insider on Friday, candidates Sens. Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand will meet with their constituents in town for AIPAC. Look out for a few additional 2020 candidates to interact with AIPAC this week.
In South Carolina yesterday, Pete Buttigieg was asked by reporters why he’s not going to AIPAC this year: “I wasn’t invited!” he replied. Buttigieg, however, didn’t rule out going in the future.
ANOTHER AIPAC WITHOUT TRUMP — Ever since AIPAC’s unprecedented apology the morning after then-candidate Trump’s remarks at its 2016 conference, both the group and the president have avoided a repeat appearance. Vice President Mike Pence has instead been dispatched to the conference each year since. Notably, on Friday afternoon, it was announced that Trump will address a Jewish conference in a few weeks, the Republican Jewish Coalition’s spring meeting in Las Vegas. Perhaps quieting the rumors that the announcement right before AIPAC wasn’t coincidental, the RJC’s Matt Brooks tweeted last night: “I’m proud and honored to stand with the Jewish community and speak at #AIPAC2019.” Others are also wondering about the timing of Trump’s announcement on the Golan last Thursday by tweet instead of waiting a few days to announce it during AIPAC week…
WILL BIBI RAISE THE TOPIC OF IRAN WAIVERS? — Republican senators last week called out “elements” in the Trump administration who are pushing to renew sanctions waivers relating to Iranian oil exports and nuclear energy work, a move that critics of the JCPOA argue is allowing Iran to remain in the deal and wait out the Trump White House. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had no qualms with publicly challenging the Obama administration on the Iran deal, the question is whether he will weigh in on this debate in the Trump administration during his speech to AIPAC.
PREVIEWING BENNY GANTZ’S SPEECH — via Kafe Knesset’s Neri Zilber: According to two sources in Blue and White who spoke to Kafe Knesset, Gantz’s speech will give conference attendees (and everyone else watching closely) an introduction to Benny Gantz as both a person and leader. “He will surprise people,” one of the sources said. “People will see something new — a former IDF chief of staff, with the aura of a former soldier, emphasizing values that Americans take seriously. He’s that kind of figure.”
In terms of substance, the speech will highlight three main themes. First, Israel and the Diaspora, in particular rebuilding relations between Israel and the Democratic Party and American Jewry writ large, upholding the importance of Israel as a bipartisan consensus issue. Second, the state of the Jewish world today, in particular the fight against antisemitism. And third, a security vision for Israel under a PM Gantz, with emphasis on maintaining Israel’s primacy as a regional power.
Despite the implicit criticism of Netanyahu’s handling of the U.S.-Israel relationship (and thus the need to “rebuild relations”), those expecting a full-frontal attack on the incumbent will be sorely disappointed. It’s not Gantz’s style, the sources emphasize — not in Israel (at least not usually) and certainly not overseas in English during a speech viewed as an address to the Jewish people. Read today’s entire Kafe Knesset newsletter here[KafeKnesset]
HILL EFFORTS — AIPAC activists are planning to ask members of Congress to cosponsor the U.S.-Israel Cooperation Enhancement and Regional Security Act (H.R. 1837)—authored by Reps. Ted Deutch (D-FL) and Joe Wilson (R-SC).” They are also lining up senators and representatives to sign a letter to President Trump highlighting the mounting threats on Israel’s northern border and supporting U.S. action to stand by Israel. The bipartisan letter is authored by Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), Sen. Jim Risch (R-ID) and Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ).
COVERAGE OF AIPAC 2019 — Bernard Avishai writes in the New Yorker: “If past is prologue, the delegates will applaud both sides from both countries—proving, as the AIPAC website puts it, “bipartisan” support for a “sister” democracy—but the tensions at this year’s conference are unprecedented. Netanyahu has crossed what, for most American Jews, more than seventy-five per cent of whom voted Democratic in 2018, should be lines of principle, and often in ways that mirror Donald Trump.” [NewYorker]
Mark Horowitz in the New York Times: “Aipac’s success isn’t ‘about the Benjamins.’ It flows from the fact that a majority of Americans, not just Jews, are predisposed to support Israel. Polls and surveys consistently confirm this… Why is it so surprising, then, that a lobbying organization exists to channel this support into political and legislative action? Labor unions do it, chambers of commerce do it, abortion rights groups do it and Arab-Americans do it. It would be weird if there wasn’t a pro-Israel lobby. ‘There’s nothing new about lobbying on behalf of causes in foreign places,’ Hubert Humphrey said in 1976. ‘It’s as American as a hot dog or apple pie.’” [NYT]
RECEPTIONS — J Street is hosting a happy hour on Sunday evening across the street from the DC convention center at Lost and Found Alley Bar. According to the invite, the event is “for Israeli and Palestinian civil society partners, MKs, journalists, and Members of Congress and their staff who are planning to be at the convention center anyway.”
The Yesha Council is hosting an event at the Museum of the Bible in D.C. at 8PM tonight. Expected guests include the Likud’s Gideon Saar, Tzachi Hanegbi, Amir Ohana, and Mayor of Efrat Oded Ravivi.
SPOTTED — at the Schusterman Foundation’s networking reception last night at the Long View Gallery, across the street from the D.C. convention center: Lisa Eisen, Tina Price, Steven Price, Kyle Price, Susie Gelman, Michael Gelman, Amb. Itamar Rabinovich, Moses Libitzky, David Becker, Eric Fingerhut, Gidi Grinstein, Moshe Friedman, Yotam Politzer, Mohamed Abubakr, Justin Hefter, Daniel Bonner, Daniel Sperling, Tamar Remz, Richard Fowler, Stuart Kurlander, Gil Galanos, Marilyn Goldman, Tye Gregory, Miranda May, Jordan Heller, Lia Weiner, Carrie Keller-Lynn, Ilan Regenbaum.
TALK OF THE MARQUIS LOBBY — As we reported in Friday’s Daily Kickoff, former President Barack Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi are hosting a reception for freshman House Democrats on Monday evening at the home of Ambassador Esther Coopersmith in Washington, D.C. Their reception is at the same time as AIPAC’s annual leadership reception, typically attended by most members of Congress. [JewishInsider]
ELSEWHERE — Yair Netanyahu wasspotted taking a photo outside the White House this morning. [Video]
On Friday night at Mar-A-Lago, with President Trump in the audience at the Palm Beach GOP Lincoln Day Dinner, Sen. Lindsey Graham declared: “We’ve got a guy over here who believes Israel is our friend… I could never convince Obama ‘Israel, good. Iran, bad.’ … Name one president in the history of the United States who stood stronger with Israel than President Donald Trump… Remember moving our embassy to Jerusalem and saying Jerusalem is the capital of Israel? If you’ve got a problem with [Jerusalem as the capital of Israel], take it up with God, he’s the one who did it.”
“Two days ago… [Trump called for recognizing] the Golan Heights, there will be a Trump hotel there in ten years, I tell you… If you’ve ever been to the Golan you know why Israel can’t give it back. It would be suicide… Syria has been dismembered, who would you give the Golan back to? The best choice would be the Russians and that’s not a good choice… Here’s what I’ll say, Donald Trump is going to set the Mideast right. You know how you do that? You let your enemies know that you’re going to stand by your friends. So when Donald Trump said Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and when he said Israel will have the Golan, now and forever, not only is that a good signal to send to Israel but it’s a great signal to send to the bad guys because you don’t want to screw with this guy!” [Pic]
Trump, who later spoke on stage, said: “Lindsey, just so you understand. I heard Lindsey was speaking, so I said if Lindsey’s speaking, I want to come down and hear him speak. For two reasons. Number one, he’s a great speaker. And number two, I know if I’m here he’s not going to say anything bad about me…” [Pic]
Also spotted at the dinner: Brian Mast (R-FL), Former Rep. Trey Gowdy, Former Florida AG Pam Bondi, Donald Trump Jr.