WATCH: US-Israel Alliance Has ‘Never Been Stronger’ Says Pence — and Democratic Leaders

Over 18,000 Americans gathered this week to voice support for the nation and ideals of Israel. Bipartisan support for the Mideast democratic state remains strong.

By Josh Shepherd Published on March 7, 2018

Early this week, Vice President Mike Pence, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, Ambassador Nikki Haley and other national leaders addressed the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference.

While the threat of Iran and other rogue nations loomed large, the general sessions with over 18,000 attendees were celebratory at times. Many speakers noted this coming May will mark 70 years since the founding of modern-day Israel.

“To this day, we marvel at the faith and resilience of a sacred and broken people, once scattered,” said Pence, referencing the Holocaust. “Just three years after walking through the valley of the shadow of death, [they] rose up to reclaim a Jewish future and rebuild a Jewish state.”

The event in Washington, D.C., concluded Tuesday with an address from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “Today, together, we are writing a new chapter in our common story,” he said. “It’s a story of freedom, justice, peace and hope.”

“Because we’re animated by the same values, America and Israel have forged an eternal bond that can never, ever be broken.”

Support for Israel Crosses the Political Aisle

AIPAC showcased pro-Israel leaders in both U.S. political parties. On Monday, House majority leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., shared the stage with minority whip Steny Hoyer. D-Md. Opponents on most issues, the two House leaders answered questions jointly to show their unified voice on these issues.

“We’ve seen such great support from Republicans and Democrats,” says Sharren Haskel, a member of the Israeli Knesset. “We have to make sure Israel stays a bipartisan issue.”

A rising political star in Israel, the 33 year-old spoke at several AIPAC breakout sessions. “Our friendship is based on mutual values of liberty and equality,” says Haskel. “The relationship is necessary for stability in the Middle East and to safeguard the values America defends.”

Remarks by Senator Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., illustrated her points. “I believe that you can find common ground while still standing your ground,” she said. Klobuchar ticked off a list of pro-Israel policies enacted by the Senate, while warning of troubling incidents of vandalism against the Jewish community.

“This last [year,] all 100 senators joined together to push back at the U.N. on the anti-Semitism that we have seen there,” the Senator continued. “We need to take on anti-Semitism across the world and at home. In my state, our community centers in Minnesota were targeted last year — even swastikas [painted] on their homes.”

A veteran of the U.S. Army, Senator Tom Cotton, R-Ark., related how pro-Israel support has been sustained over decades. “Presidents come and go,” he said. “But Congress is the source in Washington of the continued bedrock relationship between the United States and Israel.”

As attendees applauded, the conservative added: “Now don’t clap too much for Congress.”



Embassy Move Keeps Moving Forward

Most of the crowd represented a cross-section of the American Jewish community, with some Christian leaders also in attendance. “The highlights were Nikki Haley and Mike Pence speaking,” recalls Haskel, the young Knesset member. “They are very much appreciated in Israel. We really respect all of the work they do and their support.”

Indeed, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley received perhaps the loudest and most sustained applause. She addressed an issue utmost in attendees’ minds — the impending move of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv.

“Jerusalem was, is and will always be the capital of Israel,” stated Haley. “This was not something that was created by the location of an embassy. America did not make Jerusalem Israel’s capital. What President Trump did, to his great credit, was recognize a reality that American presidents had denied for too long.”

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Dr. Mike Hayes often participates in AIPAC with his team at the Center for National Renewal. The center on Capitol Hill educates Christian leaders on national issues, including the biblical and historic narrative of  Israel. “On the 70th anniversary of Israel, the United States is publicly recognizing something that should be obvious,” he says in an interview.

“People may ask, Why is this important?” Hayes continues. “The embassy is just a physical building. They’ll move a lot of office furniture, paperwork and the ambassador’s office. But it is very significant to have the exceptional nation of the United States reaffirm their right to exist and recognize their capital as Jerusalem.”

Appearing with Netanyahu at the White House on Monday, President Trump said he may travel to Israel for the planned May 14 ceremony. “Others promised they were going to do this and never did it,” notes Hayes. “Plans are in motion and President Trump is actually doing it.”



Enemy at the Gates

The planned embassy move could spark further unrest in Israel and its neighboring nations. The region is already a hotbed of violent attacks, as many speakers noted.

“Iran has been building up their military presence in Syria and in Lebanon,” said Senator Klobuchar. “We’re talking right on Israel’s northern border. This is a real wake-up call for Washington.”

“Too many younger Americans … do not realize that if Israel were weak, her enemies would immediately seek her destruction.” — Senator Chuck Schumer

Her Army veteran colleague echoed these concerns. “As serious a problem as North Korea is with nuclear weapons, Iran is an even graver problem for Israel and our allies in the Middle East,” said Senator Cotton. “Iran is at the crossroads of civilizations. It has a very aggressive ideology that it tries to export.”

Prime Minister Netanyahu made the threat of Iran central to his remarks. “If I have a message for you today, it’s a very simple one,” said the Israeli leader. “We must stop Iran. We will stop Iran.”

Democratic leaders spoke with particular passion, as many in the party have shifted to opposing Israel. During the conference, progressive activists hit these members with a barrage of criticism online.

“Too many younger Americans don’t know the history,” said Senator Chuck Schumer, D-New York. “As a result, they tend to say, Both sides are to blame. Many younger Americans didn’t grow up knowing Israel was attacked time after time.”

“They do not realize that if Israel were weak, her enemies would immediately seek her destruction.”



Activists Hit the Hill

Following the final session on Tuesday, thousands of AIPAC activists organized in small groups by Congressional district. Buses transported them to Capitol Hill.

They had scheduled meetings with their House and Senate members, armed with talking points and past voting records. In many cases, local Jewish leaders and Christian pastors met side-by-side with their members of Congress to advocate for Israel.

Among their top priorities: the Taylor Force Act, the Israel Anti-Boycott Act and a new Congressional bill to impose sanctions on Iran. The latter would strengthen policies already set in motion by the Trump administration.

Despite the threats facing Israel, the activists left with greater hope for the future. Vice President Pence offered a higher view of events in the region.

“The winds of change are blowing across the Middle East,” said Pence. “Longstanding enemies are becoming partners [and] old foes are finding new ground for cooperation. The descendants of Isaac and Ishmael are coming together in common cause.”


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