The annual (2018) AIPAC conference is no longer the intimate experience of thirty years ago. It is however understandable, with over 18,000 attendees, including over 4,000 students. The AIPAC conference at the Washington D.C. Convention Center has become akin to what we might call a small city, and a far cry from the village it once was at the Sheraton Hotel. Still, the experience of listening live to such exciting luminaries as the U.S. ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, generated a sense of intimacy that superseded the vastness of the audience.
Speaking at the Tuesday morning plenary session, PM Netanyahu was the climax of this year’s conference. He was introduced by AIPAC Board Chair Lillian Pinkus. She reminded him of the few hundred AIPAC activists that filled the Sheraton Hotel in 1988, when he first spoke at AIPAC. Netanyahu, feeling uplifted by the previous days meeting with President Donald Trump, commanded the stage like a rock star, moving from one end of the stage to the other, waving to old friends and soliciting applause for President Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and his pledge to open the Jerusalem embassy in May of this year, to coincide with Israel’s Independence Day.
Netanyahu expressed special thanks to U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman and Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer. He also expressed his special thanks to “a friend of Israel,” former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. He began the core of his speech with the theory of ‘The Good, The Bad, and the Beautiful,’ a play on the Clint Eastwood movie ‘The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.’ Netanyahu said, “The good, are all the good things we are doing in Israel that are helping make the world a better place.” He elaborated on Israel’s contributions to the world. “The bad,” he said, “are all the bad things done to Israel – especially by Iran.”
Netanyahu announced that Israel has never been stronger militarily. He pointed to a slide presentation showing the F-35 fighter plane, the most advanced in the world, and the Iron Dome interceptor, which Israel developed together with the U.S. He praised Israeli intelligence services for making flying safer for passengers by foiling various plots, and thus saving lives. He also highlighted Israel’s strong economy, which is based on innovation and entrepreneurship. Water technology, an Israeli specialty that Netanyahu termed “precision agriculture”, has increased the yield of Indian farmers by six fold. But not only in India has Israel improved the lives of ordinary people…also in Asia, Africa and Latin America. “Israel’s technology,” Netanyahu declared “is driving the world.” He pointed out by example that Israel’s population is but one tenth of one percent of the world population, yet Israel receives 20% of all global investments in cyber security.
Netanyahu alluded with pride to the flourishing of Israel’s diplomatic relations in the world. He said, “When I joined Israel’s Foreign Service as the deputy Chief of Mission in Washington (DCM), Israel had relations with about 80 countries. Today, the number is 160 countries. There are those who talk about boycotting Israel. We will boycott them.”
“Whereas the good is very good and improving,” Netanyahu said, “the bad is very bad and getting worse.” The force behind the bad, Netanyahu alluded to, is the radical tyranny in Tehran. Netanyahu reminded the audience that when he last spoke here (in Washington), he warned of the threat from the Ayatollahs regime to the survival of Israel, the security of the region, and world peace. “Iran repeatedly lied to the world about its nuclear activities, and it cannot be trusted,” Netanyahu said. “The nuclear deal gives Iran a clear path to develop its nuclear arsenal in a little more than a decade.” Netanyahu had warned that removing the sanctions will not make Iran more peaceful, but rather more belligerent and dangerous. “And this ladies and gentlemen, is exactly what has happened,” Netanyahu declared. “I have a message for you today. We must stop Iran, and we will stop Iran!” Netanyahu mentioned the Esther Scroll that was read last week in synagogues, which was a story of an attempt by another Persian anti-Semite (Haman) to destroy the Jewish people. Haman failed, and so will the current Ayatollahs.
While Netanyahu promised that he will never let Iran develop nuclear weapons, “not now, nor ever,” he had a conciliatory message for the Iranian people. He said that while Israel will counter Iran’s aggression, “We shall always remember and stand with the brave people of Iran.” They are suffering, their hopes dashed, and their courage expressed by women removing their hijabs and being jailed for it, or the brave students who are tortured and shot for advocating freedom. “The day will came,” Netanyahu continued, “when this terrible tyranny will perish from the earth. Today we have Haman, but tomorrow we might have Cyrus, and the historic friendship between the Jewish and Persian people.”
“I salute President Trump,” Netanyahu said, relating to President Trump’s declaration that his administration will counter Iranian aggression as well as a nuclearized Iran. President Trump made it clear that if the fatal flaws in the nuclear agreement are not improved, he will walk away from the deal and restore sanctions on Iran. “Israel,” Netanyahu said, “will stand by America’s side, and so will other countries in the region.”
The Arab countries now know that Israel is not their enemy but rather, Netanyahu pointed out, an indispensable ally. Touching on regional peace, he added that President Trump and he are both committed to peace between Israel and the Arab world as well as with the Palestinians. Netanyahu charged that Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority (PA) President, should invest in life rather than in death. He called on Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) to stop financially supporting families of terrorist killers. What kind of message does it convey to Palestinian children? The message Netanyahu clarified is “kill Jews and get rich.” Netanyahu added, in his message to Abbas, “build life, and don’t pay for death, invest in peace and in life.” According to Netanyahu, 10% of the PA budget is being spent on funding families of terrorist killers.
In touching on “the Beautiful,” Netanyahu referred to the unbreakable alliance between Israel and the U.S.A that AIPAC makes stronger and better. It is our “shared values,” which is the wellspring that binds the two countries together. These common values come from a book – the Bible.
Netanyahu ended his speech saying, “Today, together, we are writing a new chapter in our common story — a story of freedom, of justice, peace, of hope, and it’s because we’re inspired by the same idea. Because we’re animated by the same values that America and Israel have forged an eternal bond that can never, ever be broken.”