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Speakers Stress Need for Bipartisan Support of Israel at AIPAC

[additional-authors]
March 4, 2020
Former Democratic presidential candidate and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg; Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Several speakers on the main stage at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference on March 1-3 in Washington, D.C., spoke about the importance of maintaining American support for Israel.

Both Vice President Mike Pence and former New York City mayor and Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg criticized Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) for stating he would not attend the conference because the group provides a platform “for leaders who express bigotry and oppose basic Palestinian rights.”

Pence said Sanders’ remarks show that bipartisan support for Israel is “beginning to erode in one of America’s two major political parties,” and that Sanders would be “the most anti-Israel president in the history of this nation.” He went on to say, “Those who side with Israel’s enemies must never be allowed to call themselves friends of Israel. It is wrong to boycott and slander Israel. It is wrong to boycott and slander AIPAC. [Israel’s] cause is our cause. Her fight is our fight.”

Bloomberg said that Sanders “calling [AIPAC] a racist platform is an attempt to discredit those voices and weaken the U.S.-Israel relationship.” He stressed the importance of maintaining bipartisan support for Israel in light of rising anti-Semitism in the country, saying, “Jews have been beaten and harassed in the streets [of New York City]. Attacks on Jews have taken place with horrifying regularity.”

He went on to say there has been a rise in hate crimes across the country against all minority groups. “We need to stand up against all bigotry and hatred,” he said.

Bloomberg posited that while the rise of anti-Semitism and other forms of hate can’t be attributed to any one person or political group, he suggested President Donald Trump played a role. “Presidential leadership matters. It sets a tone,” he said, adding, “I will never stand idly by in the face of anti-Semitism.”

“The chaos in the Middle East rests on Israel’s doorstep. We can only hope to defend Israel from this threat if we maintain a united front — Republicans and Democrats together.”
— Sen. Chuck Schumer

Former Vice President Joe Biden said in a video message that he will always support Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state but also believes in a two-state solution. “You don’t have to be anti-Palestinian to be pro-Israel,” Biden said, adding that Israeli annexation of settlements is an obstacle to Israeli-Palestinian peace. Biden called for unity among both Republicans and Democrats, and concluded his address saying, “There is nothing we cannot achieve when Israel and the United States stand together.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) spoke of the importance of maintaining bipartisan support for
Israel in light of the efforts in the United Nations to single out Israel, the threat of Hamas terrorizing Israelis from the Gaza Strip, and Iran spreading terror through
its proxies.

“The chaos in the Middle East rests on Israel’s doorstep,” Schumer said. “We can only hope to defend Israel from this threat if we maintain a united front — Republicans and Democrats together.”

He argued that he believed the majority of Republicans and Democrats are united when it comes to Israel, citing Congress’ passing of the Taylor Force Act in 2017, calling for cutting off aid to the Palestinian Authority if it refuses to end its policy of payments to terrorists who kill Israelis. 

Schumer also spoke of Congress’ funding of Israel’s Iron Dome missile-defense system as well as the House of Representatives’ resolution condemning the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. “I have never once doubted the commitment of our nation to support Israel and I intend to … keep it that way,” Schumer said.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) both touted the yearly congressional delegation to Israel. “These trips build camaraderie across the aisle for Israel,” McCarthy said. 

“Members tell me it’s the most impactful trip they have ever taken,” he said of the August 2019 trip, adding that nearly 15% of Congress (72 of 535 members) took part, the largest delegation ever.

Hoyer said that same trip featured visits to Yad Vashem, the Golan Heights and to parts of Israel bordering Hezbollah territory in Lebanon. He spoke of one freshman member who said she was a little anxious about going because she wasn’t sure what to expect, but at the end of the trip became emotional, telling Hoyer she understood Israel’s importance.

“When members of Congress visit Israel, they are reminded about what is at stake for Israel, for America and for the Jewish people,” Hoyer said. “It is unfortunate that we can’t bring all 325 million of our fellow Americans to Israel to remind them of its history and help them appreciate the country’s unique challenges, dangers and importance to America.  So, we must bring Israel to them.”

He added: “That’s why AIPAC is so important. AIPAC brings Americans together from across the political spectrum, to understand the importance of the U.S.-Israel relationship and to strengthen it.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also weighed in on bipartisan support for Israel, saying through a video feed that while the U.S.-Israel alliance is stronger than ever, there are radical elements seeking to undermine it.

Referring to a February 2019 comment when Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) accused Israel supporters of “allegiance to a foreign country,” Netanyahu said, “Last year, supporters of AIPAC were accused of dual loyalty. This year, AIPAC was accused of providing a platform of bigotry,” the prime minister said, referring to Sanders’ remarks.

Netanyahu praised conference attendees of all political stripes saying they would prove such forces wrong. “They will fail,” he declared, prompting applause from the audience.

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