WASHINGTON — Over the course of the three-day AIPAC conference in Washington, politicians delivered speeches overwhelmed by audience skepticism over the Obama administration’s Iran deal and what the White House’s Middle East peace process framework might look like in the end.
But one issue that took on a new life coming into the annual convention proved to be the glue that brought politics and the 14,000 AIPACers together: the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaigns.
Like the fizzy fruits of a SodaStream, BDS bubbled to the top of the one-liners that consistently brought the crowd to its feet and helped some political figures during addresses that were otherwise on shaky ground.
On Monday, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) vowed with “every fiber of my being” to keep Iran from getting a nuke, stressing “we must keep tough sanctions in place until Iran agrees to give up nuclear weapons.”
He encouraged the crowd to look on the bright side of President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry’s negotiations, though, claiming “whatever you think of President Obama on other issues, it cannot be disputed” that he made sanctions have enough teeth to get Iran to the negotiating table and lined up partners to accomplish this task.
Schumer didn’t bring down the house until he stressed the anti-Semitic roots of the BDS movements.
“It is very suspicious that those who promote boycotting Israel do not seek boycotts against any other nations in the world, particularly those nations in the Middle East whose human rights records include hanging dissenters from cranes in city squares and imprisoning and torturing critics of the government,” the senator said. “I believe that those who call for boycotts of Israel without calling for boycotts of other neighboring nations whose human rights records are in fact reprehensible are practicing, whether they know it or not, whether they admit it or not, a modern form of what we call anti-Semitism.”
“We will succeed if we strongly and constantly oppose those who call for boycotts of Israel and expose their double standard,” he said.
Without mentioning Obama and Kerry by name, Schumer got in a dig at both men, who have dropped controversial comments in recent weeks about Israel needing to accept a deal soon lest the boycotts start to really gather steam.
“Those who even with the best of intentions warn Israel that she must make agreements she feels unjust because the boycotting will only get worse in the future, those people have it all wrong,” Schumer said. “Those quote-unquote friends should be condemning the boycotts in every possible way and weakening them.”
While trying to sell the AIPAC crowd on a deal with the Palestinians that could be modeled after the Arab peace initiative, Kerry said the Jewish state could reap economic benefits from signing a peace agreement.
“And I believe that we need to stand together with a single voice to reject any of the arbitrary, unwarranted boycotts of Israel. For more than 30 years, I have staunchly, loudly, unapologetically opposed boycotts of Israel, and I will continue to oppose those boycotts of Israel. That will never change,” he said to loud applause.
Kerry got in hot water with the Anti-Defamation League and other groups, as well as the Israeli government, earlier this year for remarks he made at the Munich Security Conference urging Israel to sign a deal soon or face potential repercussions.
“You see, for Israel there’s an increasing delegitimization campaign that has been building up,” Kerry said. “People are very sensitive to it. There are talk of boycotts and other kinds of things. Are we all going to be better with all of that?”
Fittingly, the most forceful beatdown of the BDS concept came from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the final speaker of the conference on Tuesday morning.
His speech struck several familiar notes on the dangers of Iran — he even quipped about his red-line bomb drawing at the United Nations — and opened with a reminder that Jerusalem should remain the undivided capital of the Jewish state.
Netanyahu had especially strong words, though, for the movement “that’s definitely on the wrong side of the moral divide.”
He stressed that the campaigns attempting to steer business away from Israel were also on the losing side of the financial divide.
“Beyond our traditional trading partners, countries throughout Asia, Africa, Latin America, where I’ll soon be going to, these countries are flocking to Israel. They’re not coming to Israel, they’re flocking to Israel. They want Israeli technology to help transform their countries, as it has ours,” Netanyahu said. “And it’s not just the small countries that are coming to Israel. It’s also the superpowers — you know, the other superpowers, Apple, Google, Microsoft, Intel, Facebook, Yahoo — they come because they want to benefit from Israel’s unique ingenuity, dynamism and innovation.”
“And I can tell you the BDS boycott movement is not going to stop that, any more than the Arab boycott movement could stop Israel from becoming a global technological power. They are going to fail,” he added.
Still, the prime minister continued, people shouldn’t get complacent and should continue to vigorously oppose the movements.