Obama expected to make reconciliatory speech to AIPAC

Softer tone likely after fallout from reference to 1967 lines; AIPAC circulates letter asking participants to be respectful of speakers.

May 21, 2011 19:15
3 minute read.
US President Obama at 2008 AIPAC conference

US President Barack Obama at AIPAC 311 (R). (photo credit: Jason Reed / Reuters)


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WASHINGTON – US President Barack Obama is widely expected to emphasize what binds Israel and the US when he addresses America’s largest pro-Israel lobby Sunday, rather than highlight the policies revealing wide conceptual gaps between the two countries contained in his speech last week.

The tone of Obama’s speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual conference is expected to be substantially different from Thursday’s, according to an Israeli official, because the president will be addressing “our home crowd.”

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The official is in Washington accompanying Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who met with Obama on Friday and will be appearing before AIPAC himself on Monday night.

Although there has been speculation that Obama will use the AIPAC address to announce a trip to Israel in the summer, the idea did not come up in their meeting, according to senior government sources.

Obama’s Thursday night speech, which was delivered at the State Department, and focused on the regional changes in the Arab world, troubled Netanyahu and many in the pro-Israel community by referencing the 1967 lines, with agreed land swaps, as the basis for a peace deal.

Obama and pro-Israel advocates have long had a rocky relationship. Though some of his closestsupporters and biggest donors come from the Jewish community – including AIPAC President Lee Rosenberg – many have questioned his support for the Jewish State, and whether his policies help or hurt it.


His remarks Thursday have raised new questions about how the president will be received at AIPAC, which he last appeared before in 2008, the day after clinching the Democratic Party nomination.

“Obama has ample reason to worry about a poor reception when he speaks to a very pro- Israel audience at AIPAC this Sunday,” wrote Tevi Troy, former Jewish liaison in the George W. Bush White House, on his National Review Online blog.

But William Daroff, director of the Washington office of the Jewish Federations of North America, and a former Republican Jewish Coalition executive, downplayed such concerns.

“President Obama will receive a very respectful reception when he speaks at the AIPAC policy conference. He is, after all, the leader of the free world, and his presence at the conference speaks to the importance of the US-Israel relationship – irrespective of whatever ups and downs there may be on any given day or week,” he said.

“I am certain there will be a concerted effort by the crowd to vigorously applaud and give standing ovations when President Obama makes particularly pro-Israel statements,” he continued.

Though he added, “I’m also fairly certain that, despite warnings and attempts at discipline, when the president makes statements that are not pleasing to the crowd, there will inevitably be murmurings and booing by some in attendance.”

AIPAC Spokesman Ari Goldberg expressed confidence that Obama would be well-received.

“I have no doubt that everybody who’s speaking for us will be received warmly,” he said, noting that AIPAC supporters run the gamut from Republican to Democrat to Independent.

“Everyone who’s appearing is appearing because of their deep commitment to the US-Israel relationship.”

Ahead of the three-day conference, which culminates in a lobbying day on Capitol Hill Tuesday, AIPAC circulated a letter asking the more than 10,000 expected participants to be respectful of those who appear.

“We have always had the perspective that these speakers and guests have been invited into our home, and we will treat them with the warmth, deference, respect and appreciation that anyone would be accorded as such,” the letter reads. “We ask that you act and react to every speech, address, and briefing that will be offered as part of the conference program in only the most positive manner.”

AIPAC has circulated this letter for each of the last three years, following an appearance by then-US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California), in which she was at times booed during her speech.

In addition to Obama and Netanyahu, this year’s list of confirmed speakers include current House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada), House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Virginia), and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland).

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