Dana Milbank: Netanyahu's AIPAC speech is a knife in the heart of the U.S.-Israel alliance
The gods were toying with Benjamin Netanyahu and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
The Israeli prime minister canceled his Tuesday appearance at the pro-Israel lobbying group’s Washington conference because of violence in Israel, but he attempted a live video address.
“Mr. Prime Minister, can you hear us?”
“I can hear you. I always hear you,” Netanyahu replied.
Then, 11 seconds after the prime minister began, the satellite feed broke up and never completely recovered.
“I returned to deal with the [inaudible],” Netanyahu said.
“I wanted to speak to you and say two words: [inaudible, sound of phone ringing].”
“We’ve heard a lot about the rise of forces who want to pull America and Israel apart. So I can tell you one thing: [inaudible].”
And he closed: “May God bless America and may God bless [inaudible].”
Audience members groaned. Some applauded to fill the silence. Images of Netanyahu appeared on giant screens when the video failed.
But whoever or whatever disrupted the feed performed a mitzvah.
Netanyahu’s speech was another knife into the heart of the bipartisan U.S.-Israel alliance. He attacked Democrats, singling out one Muslim member of Congress for remarks that were seen as anti-Semitic, while ignoring the many anti-Semitic remarks by Republicans. And he leveled the scurrilous claim that anyone who opposes AIPAC is anti-Semitic.
“Take it from this Benjamin: It’s not about the Benjamins,” Netanyahu said, referring to a tweet by Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn.
Now that’s chutzpah.
On Monday, Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., literally read from Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” on the House floor and borrowed Hitler’s “big lie” allegation against Jews to use on Democrats. “Unconscionable,” said the Anti-Defamation League. But Republicans, and Netanyahu, said nothing.
Tuesday was the 40th anniversary of the signing of the historic Camp David Accords. But the Israeli leader didn’t mention this, either, instead delivering division to a group that has embraced his (and Trump’s) nationalist policies.
Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, the largest branch of American Judaism, noticed that the AIPAC crowd had “beyond a doubt” become mostly pro-Trump conservatives, not the cross section of Israel supporters that AIPAC once drew. The rhetoric fit the room. “To suggest anti-Semitism is part of the Democratic Party and liberal part of the spectrum and not also part of Republican leaders’ discourse ... is corrosive,” he said. “The thing that has kept Israel safe over the decades is rock-solid bipartisan support.”
Consider the hypocrisy:
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., issued (then deleted) a tweet targeting three wealthy Jews: “We cannot allow [George] Soros, [Tom] Steyer and [Michael R.] Bloomberg to BUY this election! ... #MAGA.” But at AIPAC, McCarthy denounced anti-Semitic language on the “floors of Congress” — an apparent reference to Omar — and said he’d be “lying” to say Democrats are as opposed to anti-Semitism as Republicans.
President Trump, of course, said there “were very fine people” among the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, told Jews they wouldn’t support him “because I don’t want your money,” tweeted an image of a Star of David atop a pile of cash, used anti-Semitic tropes in an ad with photos of prominent Jews, and often denounces “globalists” such as Soros — among many other offenses. But he calls the Democrats “anti-Jewish.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., tut-tutted: “I am troubled that leading Democrats seem reluctant to plainly call out problems within their own ranks.” But he didn’t “call out” Republicans such as Rep. Jim Jordan (Ohio) for spelling Steyer’s name as “$teyer,” or Rep. Steve King (Iowa) for championing white supremacy.
Anti-Semitism is real on both the right and left. Selectively denouncing it based on party is dangerous to Jews, to Israel and to civilized society. Mindless tribalism seems already to have broken AIPAC, based on the changing audience over the two decades I’ve attended. Tuesday’s conservative crowd was cool to the vow of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., that “we will never allow anyone to make Israel a wedge issue.”
More enthusiastic was the reception for Netanyahu, who, after singling out a Democrat’s anti-Semitism, championed a new Israeli law demoting Arabic as a national language and assigning only Jews “the right to exercise national self-determination.”
Claimed Netanyahu: “We don’t judge people by the color of their skin [or] their religion. ... No one is a second-class citizen.”
As the AIPAC hard-liners condone such chutzpah, cheering the dishonest and partisan jabs of Netanyahu and the Republicans, do they not see that this destroys the American political consensus that has preserved the Jewish state for 70 years?
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.