Last night AIPAC delegates heard one of the most important presentations given at a plenary session, although this morning, the major papers seem to not have reported on it. I’m referring to the address by Rep. Eric Cantor, which you can watch here and read here. The House majority leader, a Republican member of Congress from Virginia, received a huge ovation that far exceeded anything received by President Barack Obama, although a large part of AIPAC’s delegates are undoubtedly registered Democrats.
In a heartfelt and moving presentation, Cantor succeeded in exposing the deep flaws in President Obama’s earlier speech — he was careful not to mention his name, although everyone knew to whom he was addressing his remarks.
Here is what he had to say about the issue of Iran’s fundamental threat:
Yet today the two-thousand-year-old dream of the state of Israel is in jeopardy. There is no other nation on Earth so routinely denied its right to exist and threatened with destruction.
Recent developments in the region have moved Iran out of the headlines, but it is undeniable: the specter of a nuclear Iran looms larger than ever.
We must never take our eye off Iran. And that’s why Congress will soon pass the bipartisan Iran Threat Reduction Act, making it official U.S. policy to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons capability.
Plain and simple, if you do business with Iran, you cannot do business with America.
To great applause, Cantor said:
It is not okay to vilify Israel. It is not okay to demonize Jews. And it’s time to stop scapegoating Israel.
And to those who equate Palestinian refusal to negotiate with Israel’s necessary measures it takes to defend itself, the majority leader added:
In order for us to win this great struggle, we must have the courage to see the world not as we wish it to be, but as it truly is. It is not morally equivalent when the offenses of terrorists are equated with the defenses of Israel.
Undoubtedly, his most well-received moment was when he addressed the president’s own illusions. Cantor first noted that Palestinian culture — which Obama omitted criticizing — is laced with “resentment and hatred.” Cantor then shrewdly rebuked Obama:
[Palestinian culture is] the root of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. It is not about the ’67 lines. And until Israel’s enemies come to terms with this reality, a true peace will be impossible … If the Palestinians want to live in peace in a state of their own, they must demonstrate that they are worthy of a state.
He boldly laid out a challenge to Abbas, noting that his media and schools regularly preach hatred of Israel as well as Jews as a people. His following remarks received an ovation:
Stop naming public squares and athletic teams after suicide bombers. And come to the negotiating table when you have prepared your people to forego hatred and renounce terrorism — and Israel will embrace you. Until that day, there can be no peace with Hamas. Peace at any price isn’t peace; it’s surrender.
Clearly alluding to the president, Cantor then said that friendship between Israel and the U.S. has to be based on reality, “not just on rhetoric.” While words come and go, “only deeds count.”
And with another slap at the president, he remarked: “Now is the time to lead … from the front.”
For those who are committed to Israel’s safety and prosperity, Cantor’s bold defense of the Jewish state contrasts with the not-so-hidden opposition of the president to its best interests. As our PJM colleague Barry Rubin so well exposed the president in his own report, many AIPAC delegates must have asked themselves this question: Who best represents Israel’s and America’s best interests: the Republicans or the Democrats?
I suspect that many Democratic AIPAC delegates, especially in swing states, will for the first time consider voting the Republican line for president in 2012, parting with their longstanding traditional way of voting. In a critical state like Florida, where the shift in a substantial portion of Jewish votes in Dade County alone could give the state to the Republicans, this is no small matter. And were Cantor himself to campaign there and in other states where there are many Jewish voters, as Ed Koch did for George W. Bush in Florida in 2004 (where it did not have much effect), this time it could make a difference.
When it comes to defending Israel and supporting the Jewish state as America’s key ally in the Middle East, it clearly is the Republican Party (with the exception of the neo-isolationists of the Rand and Ron Paul variety) and not the Democratic Party that is carrying on the tradition of Harry S. Truman and the Democratic Party of the Cold War years back in 1948.
Eric Cantor’s important speech makes this conclusion very clear, and it is my impression that a great many AIPAC delegates now have come to understand this.