BLOG POST: Rabbi Jonathan Feldman
March 7, 2018
Most years at AIPAC there is a crisis issue swirling around in the air: The Iran Nuclear Deal, Israel-Palestinian Peace Negotiation, a UN condemnation of Israel… This year there was no one issue that dominated the agenda. Yes, all of these issue are still swirling around, and will not go away soon, but there was a feeling this year that we could be at AIPAC celebrating the great story that is Israel. And AIPAC has been doing that for the past few years, highlighting the convergence of Israeli technology, humanitarianism and innovation: devices that draw water from the air to fight drought, breakthroughs in medicine and science discovered in Israeli research facilities, innovations in technology such as driverless technology, and Israeli humanitarian relief efforts in Puerto Rico, Mexico, Texas and many other places across the globe.. There was also giddiness over having a US administration that is unabashedly pro-Israel. It is as if we were pinching ourselves saying, yes it is real, they are really moving the US embassy to Jerusalem. Or hearing Nikki Hayley say ‘There will be no more business as usual of bullying Israel in the UN’, or saying ‘Why shouldn’t we go out of our way to support our ally, Israel. That is not bias, it is loyalty.’
Hearing Bibi was definitely one of the highlights of the conference. They do not announce beforehand that he will be speaking for security reasons, but people knew he was in town to ‘meet with President Trump’ so we imagined he would make an appearance as well. Being in the room with over 15 000 people all on their feet cheering the Prime Minister of Israel is in itself an amazing moment. Just for that feeling it is worth coming to AIPAC next year.
While last year Niki Hayley rocked the house, and she was amazing this year as well (and got the most applause of anyone other than Bibi), Chuk Schumer blew it away this year. After his usual corny joke, he sobered up and told the story of his great grandmother who was told by the Nazis in Galicia to bring her family to the front porch of the house. They were then told to leave their house, and when she refused all 17 were gunned down. Schumer said that the Jewish people and Israel will no longer allow the world stand by silently to enable the killing of Jews. The Taylor Force Act, which he said he is actively pushing to be passed in the senate, calls for the US to cut aid to the Palestinian Authority commensurate with the sums of money that they pay terrorists in jail or the families of killed terrorists. Bibi also highlighted this important legislation, noting that the terrorist that killed the Fogel family 2 years ago will receive 2 million dollars from the PA over his lifetime, and that the PA spends 10% of their budget on subsidies to terrorists. Strangely AIPAC did not place the Taylor Force Act on the lobbying agenda. Why is not clear, I suspect that there is a concern that if the PA’s funding is cut that dramatically it will fall apart. If that happens then Israel will have to run the Palestinian controlled areas, and will have to keep security themselves without help from a PA. My personal view is that there are always good reasons of why one thing or another is not politically viable, but it is about time we hold the Palestinians accountable for their incitement to terror. They must learn to live with the consequences of their evil action. The Western allies have enabled them for too long, always finding excuses for not doing so, and it must stop. There were also justifications of why the US could not move the embassy to Jerusalem, and for 20 years the presidents from Clinton to Obama put a stop on a law passed by congress to move it. Sometimes you just have to do what is right. Vice-president Mike Pence got a rousing ovation when he announced the embassy would be moved on Israel Independence day, this May. Which brings up back to Chuck Schumer. He talked the talk, but unfortunately he does not always walk the walk. I remember going to a demonstration on 40th and 7th next to Times square near his NY office to put pressure on him to vote against the Iran Nuclear Deal. In the end he did, but he only made it known he would do so at a very late point, and did not encourage other democrats to do so.
The shadow of Iran continues to loom over the middle east and Israel, and VP Mike Pence also promised the crowd that the US would not let Iran acquire nuclear weapons and would not let Iran establish a presence in Syria. President Trump’s plan is to put requirements on Iran to stop promoting terror and stop developing ballistic missiles, and if they do not stop then he will not sign the waiver to continue the nuclear deal. Sanctions will then be imposed. Will all this stop Iran? Probably not, but one of the Israeli representatives proudly said that Israel has never and will never ask the US to fight our wars for us. No US boots on the ground. We receive aid from the US, joint projects to develop defenses systems, but the IDF will always fight its own wars. I encourage you to join me at AIPAC next year, AIPAC does amazing work getting the message out to our representative in the US government about the importance of the Israel-US alliance. You can be part of that message, just by being there and showing our representatives how much Israel means to us as US citizens. You can also then lobby our representative on Capitol Hill and make the case directly for the important of Israel as a strategic partner. As their tag line this year read: Choose To Lead. I guarantee you it is an experience of a lifetime.