Trump is absent star of show at AIPAC

President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump PACs brought in over M for the first half of 2021 Chicago owes Trump M tax refund, state's attorney mounts legal challenge Biden hits resistance from unions on vaccine requirement MORE didn’t go to this year’s American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference, but he was the star of the show anyway.

Speaker after speaker hailed Trump’s accomplishments for Israel, from opening the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem to withdrawing the United States from the Iran nuclear deal negotiated by the Obama administration.


On Tuesday morning, the final session of the conference before the attendees went to lobby on Capitol Hill, Trump’s ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, touted the “Purim miracle” of Trump’s decision to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights — territory taken by Israel from Syria in the Six-Day War of 1967.

“Just last week, we experienced what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described as the Purim miracle: President Trump's bold decision to recognize Israel's sovereignty over the Golan Heights,” Friedman said, to a standing ovation from the audience.

Friedman was just the latest speaker to tout the president’s accomplishments with a crowd that for the most part was happy to hear the celebrations.

Audiences at the AIPAC conference repeatedly offered rousing cheers for Trump’s policies, which the White House has touted to argue that he is the most pro-Israel president in history.

The majority of American Jews vote Democratic, however, and the conference was not entirely a lovefest for Trump.

When Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerSenate infrastructure talks spill over into rare Sunday session Senate holds sleepy Saturday session as negotiators finalize infrastructure deal An August ultimatum: No recess until redistricting reform is done MORE (D-N.Y.) jabbed at Trump’s response to the Charlottesville violence, he received loud applause on Monday night. Trump had responded to clashes between self-professed neo-Nazis and white supremacists and their counterprotesters by stating that there were good and bad people on both sides of the fight.

Panelists in at least one breakout session on Middle East policy also criticized Trump for conducting foreign policy via Twitter.

The president had announced his decision to recognize Israeli control over the Golan Heights through a tweet. He also announced the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria over Twitter in a decision that was much less popular with Israel’s government.


Vance Serchuk, an adjunct senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, said during the panel that a Syria withdrawal leads to questions that “don’t lend themselves to a tweet,” while the Brookings Institution’s Tamara Cofman Wittes said that “clarity and discipline” are paramount in foreign policy while expressing concern about the Golan Heights move.
Still, for the most part the talk about Trump, who in recent weeks has stepped up his efforts to cast himself as pro-Israel, was much more positive.

Trump has sought to make inroads with Jewish voters, using both his policies and the controversy over remarks widely decried as anti-Semitic from Rep. Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarProgressives camp outside Capitol to protest evictions Overnight Defense: US launches another airstrike in Somalia | Amendment to expand Pentagon recusal period added to NDAA | No. 2 State Dept. official to lead nuclear talks with Russia US launches second Somalia strike in week MORE (D-Minn.) to argue that Jewish Democrats should consider supporting him.

Omar loomed over the AIPAC conference, with speakers from both parties implicitly rebuking her.

“We will do what needs to be done, and just to be clear, we will not do this for the Benjamins,” Friedman said Tuesday, referencing Omar’s tweet that lawmaker support for Israel is “all about the Benjamins.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking via a satellite video from Jerusalem, used a similar line later on Tuesday morning.

“Take it from this Benjamin: It’s not about the Benjamins,” Netanyahu said.

Omar responded to the criticisms of her on Twitter, blasting Netanyahu for spending more time in his speech on her than on October's Pittsburgh synagogue shooting and highlighting his impending charges on bribery and fraud.

Netanyahu, who is in the midst of a tough reelection campaign with elections April 9, has fostered a close with relationship with Trump. He was at the White House on Monday when Trump officially recognized Israel’s control over the Golan Heights.

“Now that deserves enormous applause,” Netanyahu said Tuesday of the move, to which the audience obliged.

Netanyahu’s opponent, too, praised Trump in his speech to AIPAC on Monday. Benny Gantz, leader of Israel’s Blue and White Party, elicited cheers when he called Trump “a true partner and an ally of Israel” and thanked Trump for moving the embassy to Jerusalem, recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan territory and being a “strategic partnership” with Israel.

Democrats, while rebuking Omar themselves, have blasted Trump for using anti-Semitism for political purposes. Trump’s criticisms, they argue, are disingenuous coming from someone who said there were “very fine people on both sides” of the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va.

“When someone looks at a neo-Nazi rally and sees some ‘very fine people’ among its company, we must call it out,” Schumer said Monday night. The line drew louder cheers than for Schumer’s criticisms of Omar, and some audience members offered a standing ovation for it.

AIPAC as an organization has supported most of Trump’s moves on the Middle East — it notably lobbied hard against the Iran deal when former President Obama inked it in 2015 — making the warm reception at the conference unsurprising.

But the intensity was noticeable. Vice President Pence, who spoke at the conference Monday, received a standing ovation from most in the crowd when he relayed greetings from “someone history has already proven to be the greatest friend of the Jewish people and the state of Israel ever to sit in the Oval Office of the White House.”