Vice President Mike Pence delivered a well-received message from the Trump administration to 18,000 pro-Israel activists attending the annual policy AIPAC conference in Washington DC Sunday evening. Pence declared, “Under President Donald Trump, if the world knows nothing else, the world will know this: America stands with Israel. . . I say with confidence, to all gathered here, President Trump and I stand without apology for Israel and we always will.”
As vice president, Pence has become the administration’s most effective envoy to the Jewish community. His speech to AIPAC was another demonstration of that popularity.
The audience cheered when Pence quoted Trump’s remarks to a joint session of Congress in response to a rash of threats and acts of vandalism against Jewish communities across the country. Trump said, “while we may be a nation divided on policies, we are a country that stands united in condemning evil in all its very ugly forms.”
Pence added, “President Donald Trump is a man of his word. And he’s a man of action. For the first time in a long-time America has a president who will stand with our allies and stand up to our enemies.”
The vice president explained, “President Trump and I stand with Israel for the same reason every freedom loving American stands with Israel, because her cause is our cause. Her values are our values. And her fight is our fight.”
Explaining the source of his personal devotion to that cause, Pence said, “My Christian upbringing compels me to cherish Israel. The songs of the land and the people of Israel were the anthems of my youth. My wife and I had the privilege of visiting Israel in 2004 and again in 2008, and we fulfilled a lifelong dream to bring all three of our children to the Holy Land in December of 2014. Let me say from my heart, as for me and my house, we pray for the peace of Jerusalem and all who call her home.” The AIPAC audience accepted Pence’s declarations of faith-based support for Israel with unreserved enthusiasm.
HOW PENCE WON THE TRUST OF THE JEWISH COMMUNITY
Pence had already demonstrated his sensitivity to the concerns of the Jewish community through actions as well as words. When Trump was criticized for failing to speak out earlier in his presidency about the wave of false bomb threats and other anti-Semitic acts against Jewish institutions across the country, Pence reacted by traveling to visit a St. Louis area Jewish cemetery which had just been vandalized. The vice president then personally pitched in to help with the clean-up efforts, and spoke out forcefully to express his personal outrage at the desecration.
The Trump administration had been criticized for a Holocaust statement it issued which failed to make direct mention of the six million Jewish victims. Pence again responded to that criticism with action. While representing the White House at an international security conference in Munich, the vice president took his family on a side trip to the nearby site of the Dachau concentration camp.
Pence explained his personal motives for making that visit to the AIPAC audience. “I’d been there as a young man, but Karen and I wanted our daughter to see it too. We arrived at the camp in an early morning fog and we were accompanied on our tour by Abdi Noor, a 93-year-old Holocaust survivor who had been imprisoned in Dachau as a 17-year-old boy. As we walked through the camp, Abdi described to me the life he endured toiling away as a slave.
“All those around him were taken away one by one, never to return, and then he stopped, looked up at me with tears in his eyes and said words I’ll never forget. He said, ‘Then the Americans came.’ I was so proud. Those words underscored the imperative of American strength and they powerfully remind us of the immutable bond between our people and the people of Israel.”
A NON-NEGOTIABLE COMMITMENT TO ISRAEL’S DEFENSE
Pence emphasized that President Trump’s “commitment to Israel’s defense is non-negotiable, not now, not ever.” He added that Trump is “busy rebuilding our military, restoring the arsenal of democracy” that is needed “to accomplish the mission [to] protect our families and defend our allies. And under President Trump, America has a leader who will call our enemies by their name.”
Pence promised, “under President Donald Trump, America will stand strong in the face of the leading state sponsor of terrorism. This administration has put Iran on notice. America will no longer tolerate Iran’s efforts to destabilize the region and jeopardize Israel’s security. The Ayatollahs in Tehran openly admit their desire to wipe Israel off the map and drive its people into the sea. For decades, Iran has funneled weapons and cash to terrorists in Lebanon, Syria and the Gaza Strip. They’ve gone to great lengths to develop nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles and due to the disastrous end of nuclear-related sanctions under the Iran deal, they now have additional resources to devote to sowing chaos and imperiling Israel.
“So let me be clear. Under President Donald Trump, the United States of America will not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon. This is our solemn promise to you, to Israel and to the world.”
IT’S STILL ALL ABOUT YERUSHALAYIM
Pence was benignly vague concerning other issues in the U.S.-Israel diplomatic relationship. For example, he said in a hopeful but non-committal way that Trump “is giving serious consideration” to keeping his campaign promise to move the U.S. embassy to Yerushalayim. This is the same campaign promise every other president since Bill Clinton has reneged upon due to objections from Arab states and the anti-Israel diplomats in the State Department itself, or their own personal disdain for Israel.
The location of the U.S. embassy, while diplomatically significant, is much less important to Israel than the life or death security issues on which it must have America’s help. However, the embassy issue is a disturbing reminder to yerei shomayim that even now, the legitimacy of the Jewish people’s claim to Yerushalayim Ir Hakodesh is not fully accepted, even by our best friends in the non-Jewish world.
Pence also took a carefully neutral position while declaring in front of the AIPAC supporters that “President Trump is also invested in finding an equitable and just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Just a few weeks ago, the president dispatched Jason Greenblatt, his special representative for international negotiations, to visit Israel and the Palestinian territories and to bring a message that President Trump is committed to forging a last peace in the Middle East. . . And while there will undoubtedly have to be compromises, I can assure you all President Trump will never compromise the safety and security of the Jewish State of Israel.”
PAYING ATTENTION TO WHAT PENCE DIDN’T SAY
What Pence didn’t say with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute was far more important than what he did say. Specifically, the vice president made no mention of the so-called two-state solution, the creation of a Palestinian state, the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, or any objections to Israel’s right to continue building West Bank communities. On the contrary, Pence went out of his way to praise Trump’s choice of David Friedman as his ambassador to Israel. He referred to Friedman as an “unabashed advocate for a stronger Israel-America relationship.” Nearly everyone in the AIPAC audience knew that Friedman has been an outspoken and generous financial supporter of the Beit El community in the West Bank and publicly skeptical about the practicality or desirability of a two-state solution.
Friedman’s nomination as ambassador to Israel was confirmed by the U.S. Senate last Thursday by a largely party-line vote of 52-46, with every Democrat opposing him except two, Robert Menendez from New Jersey and Joe Manchin from West Virginia. Every Jewish member of the U.S. Senate voted against Friedman, including New York’s Chuck Schumer, California’s Dianne Feinstein, Vermont’s Bernie Sanders, Ron Wyden of Oregon, Ben Cardin of Maryland, Al Franken of Minnesota, Dick Blumenthal of Connecticut, and Brian Schatz of Hawaii.
HOW FRIEDMAN OUTRAGED HIS ENEMIES
Friedman outraged the liberal peace process advocates last year when he published an op-ed essay on the Arutz-7 website which called the supporters of the anti-settlement J Street lobby in Washington “worse than kapos.” Friedman wrote that “the kapos faced extraordinary cruelty and who knows what any of us would have done under those circumstances to save a loved one? But J Street? They are just smug advocates of Israel’s destruction delivered from the comfort of their secure American sofas.”
Friedman had worked as a bankruptcy lawyer for the Trump Organization and became his longtime friend. During the campaign, he criticized the Anti-Defamation League and Democrat Senator Al Franken for accusing Trump of using anti-Semitic imagery reminiscent of the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” in one of his campaign ads. The ad was a TV spot claiming that Mrs. Clinton was under the influence of establishment people “who control the levers of power in Washington” with “trillions of dollars at stake in this election.” The ad single out billionaire currency manipulator George Soros, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellin, and Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, all of whom were born Jewish.
Friedman maintained that the three were singled out by the Trump ad solely because of their liberal policies and their influence over Clinton, rather than their little known Jewish identities. Friedman called the criticism of Trump for the ad “an absolute abuse of the accusation of anti-Semitism.” He accused the ADL of making claims of anti-Semitism that are completely fake in an attempt “to scare Jewish people into voting for Hillary Clinton” and “to advance liberal policies.” Friedman also said, “This is what happens when people take these insane arguments to their logical extension. They lose all credibility, and frankly, they sound [stupid].”
After the election, when Friedman was nominated to become the ambassador to Israel, Trump’s opponents rushed to accuse Friedman of insulting the ADL, while ignoring the context of the dispute over Trump’s TV ad which largely justified the comment.
Under pressure during his confirmation hearing in front of the Senate Foreign Relations committee several weeks ago, Friedman expressed regret over “the use of such language,” and promised committee members that he would be more tactful and diplomatic in his statements as U.S. ambassador to Israel. But liberals on the panel were correct to suspect the sincerity of his apology.
The committee recommended Friedman for Senate approval in a 12-9 vote, which was also mostly along party lines. The committee’s ranking Democrat, Ben Cardin, said he was voting against Friedman’s nomination because he has accused his political opponents of anti-Semitism and working against Israel, and his disdain for the two-state solution and negotiations with the Palestinians.
After the full Senate’s confirmation vote last week, Senator Feinstein explained why she voted no. “Mr. Friedman takes extreme positions that will move the two parties further from peace. . . [He is] far too divisive to serve in one of our nation’s most sensitive diplomatic positions.”
The president of the American Reform Judaism movement, which joined J Street in lobbying against Friedman’s confirmation, issued a statement promising to hold him “to the testimony he offered during his confirmation hearing in which he affirmed that the two-state solution remains the best possibility for peace.” The Reform leader also expressed “hope that [Friedman] will carry out his new responsibilities with appreciation for the diversity of voices and views in the pro-Israel community.”
J STREET’S REVENGE
Following Friedman’s confirmation, J Street issued a statement expressing disappointment that, “the important position of U.S. Ambassador to Israel [which] has previously been filled by well-respected public servants capable of garnering unanimous, bipartisan support. . . will now be taken up by such a divisive and aggressive figure, whose life has been dedicated to advancing a dangerous ideological agenda in Israel and the West Bank.” The J Street statement also expressed satisfaction from the fact that, “almost half of the Senate voted to oppose this deeply unqualified and inappropriate nominee, whose predecessors had all been confirmed without a single vote against them.”
But other mainstream American Jewish communal and Israeli government leaders expressed their approval of Friedman’s appointment.
Stephen Greenberg, and Malcolm Hoenlein, the leaders of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said they have “enjoyed a vitally important and mutually beneficial close working relationship with each U.S. ambassador to Israel since the founding of the Conference more than 60 years ago. We are sure that it will continue and be enhanced during Ambassador Friedman’s tenure, and look forward to working closely with him as he takes up his duties in Israel.”
ISRAEL WELCOMES FRIEDMAN’S APPOINTMENT
Israel’s ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer, sent a message to Friedman saying he was “looking forward to working closely with you to make the U.S.-Israel alliance stronger than ever.”
Prime Minister Netanyahu tweeted, “New US ambassador to Israel David Friedman will be warmly welcomed as President Trump’s representative and as a close friend of Israel.”
Vice President Pence had only praise for Friedman, and told the AIPAC audience that he looked forward to administering the ambassadorial oath of office to Friedman this week.
Friedman has not voiced much concern about the delay in Trump’s decision about whether to move the U.S. embassy to Yerushalayim, because he intends to live in his own apartment in Yerushalayim instead of moving into the official U.S. ambassador’s residence in Herzliya.
During the campaign, Friedman partnered with Jason Greenblatt, another religious Jew who worked as a senior executive in the Trump Organization, to advise Trump on Israel and other Jewish-related policies.
TRUMP’S PERSONAL ENVOY TO THE MIDDLE EAST
Greenblatt is Trump’s special representative for international negotiations and serves as his personal envoy to Israeli and Palestinian leaders. In recent weeks, Greenblatt has been going through the motions of negotiating with them on issues such West Bank settlement policy and relations going forward between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
After ignoring PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas for months, President Trump finally called him on the phone a few weeks ago and sent Greenblatt to meet with him face-to-face. But nothing has fundamentally changed. During Netanyahu’s visit to the Trump White House in February, the two reached a clear mutual understanding and working relationship. Subsequent stories floated by the Israeli media about what has happened in Greenblatt’s meetings appear to be little more than window dressing.
NETANYAHU AND TRUMP ARE ON THE SAME PAGE
Netanyahu’s decision to skip the trip to Washington to talk live to the AIPAC conference and send a video message instead is another indication of the success of his face-to-face meeting with Trump at the White House.
Unlike the situation during the Obama years, Netanyahu no longer needs much help from AIPAC to influence administration policy in Israel’s favor. On the three most important issues, the Iran threat, fighting Islamic terrorism and safeguarding Israel’s security, he and Trump are already very much on the same page, and Trump’s reliance on advice from religious Jews like Friedman, Greenblatt and his son-in-law, Jared Kurshner, means that Trump will stay on the same page.
TURNING WORDS OF SUPPORT INTO POLICY
In his video message to the Monday morning AIPAC session, Netanyahu thanked the Trump administration “for showing its commitment to Israel by turning its words [of support] into policy.” He also thanked President Trump, the Congress and the American people for “leaving military aid to Israel fully funded even when the fiscal belt is pulled tighter.”
Netanyahu reiterated that “Israel’s hand is extended to all of our neighbors in peace. We teach peace to our children, and it is time for the Palestinian Authority to do the same. It must stop teaching hatred to its children. It must stop paying terrorists. And it must stop denying [Israel’s] legitimacy and its history and, once and for all, recognize the Jewish state.”
The prime minister suggested “that the common dangers faced by Israel and many of its Arab neighbors now offer a rare opportunity to build bridges towards a better future which will be more prosperous, more secure, and more peaceful.”
NIKKI HALEY IS ISRAEL’S NEW BEST FRIEND AT THE U.N.
In his message, Netanyahu thanked Trump’s ambassador to the U.N., former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, “for standing up for what’s right for Israel and the truth at the United Nations.”
In his speech to AIPAC, Pence also recognized Haley for her aggressive efforts “to end the one-sided actions of the U.N. that unfairly target Israel. And under President Trump, the United States will no longer allow the United Nations to be used as a forum for invective against Israel or the West.”
Two weeks ago, Ambassador Haley criticized a U.N. report that viciously attacked Israel as an apartheid state. As a result, soon thereafter, the secretary-general of the U.N. ordered the report’s retraction, and the official who wrote it resigned.
After a recent U.N. Security Council meeting on the Middle East, Ambassador Haley condemned it to reporters for unfairly bashing Israel, “the one true democracy in the Middle East,” to the exclusion of all the other problems in the region. She then declared, “I’m here to say that the United States will not turn a blind eye to this anymore.”
Haley appeared at the AIPAC conference Monday to be interviewed by foreign policy analyst Dan Senor, who asked her about the source of her affinity for Israel. She cited the cultural similarities between her family, which came to the U.S. from India, and Israeli culture, including close knit families, a strong work ethic, a commitment to professionalism, philanthropy and giving back.
With regard to her mission as the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Haley said that it was to make sure that the U.S. will “have the backs of our allies.”
She said that President Obama made a huge mistake by allowing Security Council Resolution 2234, which condemned Israel’s West Bank settlements as illegal, to pass by not casting the U.S.’ veto.
HALEY SAYS THE U.S. MUST STAND UP TO PROTECT ITS FRIENDS
“We had just done something that showed the United States at its weakest point ever. Never do we not have the backs of our friends. We don’t have a greater friend than Israel. And to see that happen was not only embarrassing, it was hurtful,” Haley declared.
Since becoming the ambassador, Haley has made it clear she will not let that kind of mistake happen again.
“We said, the days of Israel-bashing are over,” Haley told her U.N. colleagues. “We have a lot of things to talk about. There are a lot of threats to peace and security. But you’re not going to take our number one democratic friend in the Middle East and beat up on them. And I think what you’re seeing is they’re all backing up a little bit. The Israel-bashing is not as loud. . .
“So when they decided to try and put a Palestinian in one of the highest positions that had ever been given at the U.N., we said no and we had him booted out. . . What it means is, until the Palestinian Authority comes to the table, until the U.N. responds the way they’re supposed to, there are no freebees for the Palestinian Authority anymore.”
“THERE’S A NEW SHERIFF IN TOWN”
She then added, “for anyone that says you can’t get anything done at the U.N., they need to know there’s a new sheriff in town.”
The AIPAC audience was thrilled with Ambassador Haley’s no nonsense attitude. In response, she said, “I appreciate all the support and kindness and everything that you’ve given to me. But all I did was tell the truth. And if you want to continue to support me, which I greatly appreciate, understand that by telling the truth and showing the power of your voice and putting action behind it, there’s nothing we can’t change.”
HOUSE SPEAKER RYAN IDENTIFIES THE REAL THREATS TO PEACE
The other speeches to the AIPAC conference by Washington politicians emphasized the continued U.S. commitment to Israel’s security. Those made by Republican leaders, such as House Speaker Paul Ryan, warned about the looming threat from Iran due to the Obama administration’s deeply flawed nuclear deal with Iran.
Ryan debunked the left wing claim that Israel’s settlement policies are at the core of its dispute with the Palestinians. He cited the fact that neither the generous territorial offers that Israeli prime ministers made to the Palestinians nor Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza brought it any closer to peace.
He also condemned the BDS movement, which seeks to demonize, delegitimize and isolate Israel, and correctly identified it as a thinly disguised form of anti-Semitism.
The AIPAC audience expressed their appreciation for the declarations of support for Israel by all of the American political leaders who were present, including Democrat leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi.
ISRAEL IS NOT ALONE, BUT THE FIGHT FOR SURVIVAL CONTINUES
But the speakers had no solutions to offer that could defeat the threats facing Israel and the Jewish people. They were “preaching to the choir,” a solidly pro-Israel audience, while the enemies of Israel continue to dominate the media, the U.N. and the diplomatic community.
The main conclusion to be drawn from the AIPAC conference is that Israel now has good friends it can rely upon for support in the Trump administration. Yet Israel and Jews throughout the world face growing threats from Iran, radical Islamic terrorism and a reborn Western anti-Semitic culture masquerading behind a cynical facade of liberal values and false concern for the Palestinian cause.
We are not alone, but the fight for Jewish survival continues.