Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking at the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, February 21, 2018 (Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post).
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Despite mounting legal woes at home, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is still scheduled to travel to Washington in early March to meet US President Donald Trump and address the annual AIPAC Policy Conference.
Netanyahu, who has not personally attended an AIPAC conference since 2015, and over the last two years has addressed the gathering via a satellite hookup, is scheduled to speak at the conference which runs from March 4 to 6.
Conference organizers said that Netanyahu confirmed his participation, and that they have not heard from the Prime Minister’s Office that anything has changed. Sources in the Prime Minister’s Office said Netanyahu did intend on traveling to the US as planned.
One official in Jerusalem said it would be hard to imagine Netanyahu would miss the opportunity to celebrate Israel’s 70th anniversary on the AIPAC central stage in front of 18,000 cheering people.
The official recalled that Netanyahu went to the Munich Security Conference last week just two days after the police issued its recommendation to indict him for alleged fraud, bribery and breach of trust, and that he would probably not want to give up on his meeting with Trump.
Even if – as some have speculated – Netanyahu calls for a snap election before the scheduled trip, he will likely still go ahead with it, the official reasoned, because he wants to be seen as a statesman, and standing next to the US president is the quintessential way to be seen as a statesman.
In a likely preview of the type of address he will give at the AIPAC conference, Netanyahu spoke Wednesday evening to the Conference of President’s of Major American Jewish Organizations annual conference in Jerusalem and made no reference at all to his current legal problems.
Rather, he gave a speech that focused on Iran, growing cooperation with Sunni states in the region, and Israel’s strengthened diplomatic position in the world which he said were a result of its security and technological prowess. Unlike in years past when he addressed the Conference of Presidents, he did not take any questions this time.
Netanyahu was greeted by a standing ovation from the group of about 70 people, which represents 53 leading American Jewish organizations.
The White House announced last Friday that the meeting between Trump and Netanyahu – the fifth between the two leaders since Trump took office in January 2017– will take place on March 5.
Trump, who addressed the AIPAC conference in 2016 as a candidate for president, will not be speaking there this year. Rather, the administration will be represented by Vice President Mike Pence and US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, both of whom addressed the conference last year.
Haley received a rock-star reception at last year’s conference for her strong defense of Israel in the world body, telling the delegates that she wears heels not to make a fashion statement, but “because if I see something wrong, we’re going to kick ’em every single time.”
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-California), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, whom Trump considers a major nemesis and who was the subject of a sarcastic and angry Trump tweet this week, will also be a featured speaker at the conference.
The House Intelligence Committee is one of three congressional committees investigating allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, and the possible involvement by Trump staffers.
On Sunday Trump tweeted: “Finally, Liddle’ Adam Schiff, the leakin’ monster of no control, is now blaming the Obama Administration for Russian meddling in the 2016 Election. He is finally right about something. Obama was President, knew of the threat, and did nothing. Thank you Adam!”
Ten Republican and seven Democratic congressmen, plus Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin, are scheduled to speak at the conference.
In addition to Netanyahu, the following Israeli politicians will speak at the parley: the Likud’s Yuval Steinitz, Bayit Yehudi’s Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked; and MKs Sharren Haskel (Likud) and Ksenia Svetlova (Zionist Union).