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Bibi at AIPAC: The PM Lays Out His Challenge to the Obama Administration

by Ron Radosh and Allis Radosh

At the AIPAC final session this morning, the 14,000 delegates heard two powerful speeches -- the first from Senator Robert Menendez, who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee, and the second from the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, who came to AIPAC a day after his meeting with President Barack Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and others in the administration.

Netanyahu’s speech took place not only after his meeting with the president, but two days after President Obama, in his interview with Jeffrey Goldberg, publicly chastised the Israeli prime minister. At that meeting, the president took what Goldberg termed a “sharper view,” arguing “that if Netanyahu ‘does not believe that a peace deal with the Palestinians is the right thing to do for Israel, then he needs to articulate an alternative approach.’ He added,  ‘It’s hard to come up with one that’s plausible.’”

Netanyahu’s speech was made within that context. Without specifically addressing the president’s remarks, Netanyahu made it clear that he realized it was in the interest of both the United States and Israel to maintain our alliance, and to stand together as one in addressing the threats facing both democracies. But when it came to specifics, both he and Menendez made clear their disagreement on one critical issue -- Obama’s claim that he was right to “to fight a congressional effort to impose more time-delayed sanctions on Iran just as nuclear negotiations were commencing.”

He came to draw a red line, Netanyahu told AIPAC, a line “between life and death, right and wrong,” between the “blessings of a brilliant future and the curses of a dark past.” Israel, he stressed, was a humane, compassionate nation and a force for good in the world, one that comprehended the dividing line between “decency and depravity.”  The prime minister recounted how Israeli field hospitals treated Palestinians from Gaza and refugees from Syria, while Iran sent rockets, terrorism and missiles abroad, while executing political prisoners and repressing millions in the brutal theocracy run by the mullahs.

Quoting the head of Hezbollah, who said “Iran loves death and Israel loves life” and that was why they would win, Netanyahu responded that the first part of his statement was correct, but the second was wrong -- and that it was Israel who would win that fight. Turning to Iran’s nuclear program, he stressed that despite Iran’s claim it wanted only peaceful nuclear power, why were they building ICBMs that could reach the United States and were meant to carry a nuclear payload? That desire is a danger both to the U.S. and Israel, and that is why it had to have as its goal getting rid of its stockpiles and its centrifuges and heavy water reactors -- all of which were not needed for simply peaceful purposes. Iran’s goal, as he understood it, was to develop a military nuclear capability.

The world powers -- and clearly that includes the United States -- seemed content, he said, with leaving Iran with the capacity to develop a nuclear weapon. They would then be able to rapidly develop that goal if an agreement fell apart, and could do so as the world looked elsewhere.

As the leader of Israel, he said, he would see to it that the Jewish people would “never be brought to the brink of extinction again." He would do what is necessary to defend “the Jewish state of Israel.” Of course, he said -- addressing both Kerry’s argument  before AIPAC the day before as well as that of Obama -- Israel wants diplomacy to succeed. But Iran’s threat, he cautioned, “could not be eliminated by any agreement at all,” only one “that forces Iran to dismantle its nuclear capability.” That goal could be achieved not by relieving pressure on Iran, but by adding pressure. Iran came to the table, he said, only when pressure was applied, and only more pressure -- not less -- would get them to abandon their goal of military nuclear capability. The other position -- lessening sanctions and pressure -- would make war more likely. “The greater the pressure on Iran,” he said, “the smaller the chance that force will have to be used.”

On the issue of negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, Netanyahu agreed that peace would be good for both sides. It could lead to developing ties with the other Arab nations, many of whose rulers realize now that Israel is not their enemy, and that they, in conjunction with the Gulf states, would catapult the economic and social development of the entire region moving forward, resolving major problems of both water supply and energy. On that point, he was agreeing with the outlook and argument made earlier by Secretary Kerry. The lives of millions in the Middle East, he said, would be made better.

His goal was a durable peace obtained by mutual recognition of both a Jewish state and a Palestinian one, in which the rights of all citizens would be guaranteed. But for that to work, the Palestinians have to “stop denying history,” must be “prepared to recognize a Jewish state,” since territorial issues could be resolved, but the right of the Jewish people for a state of their own is something that is beyond dispute. Thus the Palestinians have to abandon the fantasy of flooding Israel with refugees or amputating the country, giving regions that were part of Israel back to the Palestinians. They have to offer “no excuses and no delays,” Netanyahu stated, and thus have to offer recognition to a Jewish state.

That might take decades to filter down to the Palestinian people, and thus, any agreement had to guarantee long-term security arrangements on the ground, that would protect both Israel and the peace treaty. Israel must, he said, “look for the best and prepare for the worst.” He said that knowing that previously, international peacekeepers left when the going got tough, and proved ineffective. He realized that peace would come under attack from Hezbollah, Hamas and Iran, and thus they needed a force with which to defend their own Jewish homeland. “I’m charged with protecting the security of my people,” he added, “and I will never gamble with the security of the one and only Jewish state.” That force would be the IDF, since they would fight to defend their own homeland,  unlike the so-called international peacekeepers who withdrew when threatened.

Turning to the BDS movement (Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions) he quipped that its letters should really stand for “Bigotry, Dishonesty and Shame.” That movement, he said, would fail just as had the Arab boycott in Israel’s earlier days. But it needed to be vigorously opposed, because it was bad for peace and was just plain wrong. Its gullible fellow-travelers were supporting a movement whose leaders sought the dissolution of Israel, and not peace or reconciliation. Its effect would be “to set back peace by hardening Palestinian positions.”

Moreover, BDS was “morally wrong.” Israel, he said, was a healthy democracy, in which its citizens regularly dissented and loudly made criticisms of Israeli policy within the country. It had a free press and protected all religions, including Christians,  who are under attack elsewhere throughout the region.  BDS was not about criticism, but was an attempt to paint Israel as an illegitimate state, and was “nothing but a farce.” At a time when other nations in the Middle east were sending academics to prison for their beliefs, hanging gays on crane  from public squares, BDS only called upon sanctions on Israel, a nation in which professors were free to say and teach anything they want. It was the only nation that had full rights for gay people, in which women headed three branches of government and with a free press. How, he asked, “can anyone fall for the BS in BDS?”

He was not surprised, because he concluded, throughout history people believed the most absurd things about Jews, and the most influential people had always spread lies about the Jewish people, which had become “ingrained in their consciousness,” and was part of “the long and dark chapter of anti-Semitism.” BDS thus had to be treated as we treat any form of anti-Semitism, exposed and condemned. Thus, he said, he supported those who argued that it was the boycotters themselves who now should be boycotted, and he applauded those who worked to stop the BDS movement from succeeding.

America and Israel, he ended, had to stand together on the right side of history.

His speech was interrupted at many points by huge applause, and by many standing ovations. The largely Democratic members of AIPAC, stood together with Republicans in defense of Israel, and in support of the Prime Minister who the left-liberals, the members of J-Street and the opponents of Israel regularly attack as a reactionary, a hawk, and a danger to Israel.

Those writers, who have recently argued that AIPAC’s role was diminishing and would be proved irrelevant, were clearly shortsighted. Its members were committed to intense lobbying, and to keeping up the pressure on behalf of Israel and against those who sought its weakening or demise.