America at its best

This year's AIPAC policy conference underscored that the US-Israel relationship is a bipartisan affair.

clinton aipac 248 88 ap (photo credit: AP)
clinton aipac 248 88 ap
(photo credit: AP)
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) 2008 Policy Conference which concluded Wednesday in Washington is an expression of all that is wonderful about America and about the US-Israel relationship. For AIPAC is not Israel's lobby in the US - it is the central address of pro-Israel Americans from across the political spectrum. As Israelis watched in admiration from the other side of the globe, 7,000 US citizens - from the most powerful practitioners of politics to undergraduates taking their first politics course - gathered under the auspices of a body that is neither conservative nor liberal, Republican or Democratic, but quintessentially American. And because this is an election year, the presumptive Republican and Democratic presidential candidates both gave defining speeches at the conference. They knew their words would be deconstructed, analyzed and archived as the best, straight-from-the-horse's-mouth indicator of their respective stances on issues of concern to the pro-Israel community. And by that criteria, the news is good. A BLEARY-EYED Barack Obama was warmly greeted by an audience that knew he had just made the historic journey to becoming the first African American nominated by a major party. He began by both acknowledging, then deriding a negative e-mail campaign about him circulating within the Jewish community. Then, "speaking from the heart," Obama offered a stirring oration that repeatedly brought the audience to its feet. "I will never compromise when it comes to Israel's security," he declared. He argued that by pressuring Israel to allow Palestinian elections with Hamas participation, and by going to war against Iraq when "Iran was always the greater threat," administration foreign policy had made Israel less secure. Obama dismissed the notion that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict was at the root of Mideast instability; he said Israel's qualitative military superiority had to be preserved, and that Hamas must be kept isolated. He was committed to "two states, a Jewish state of Israel and a Palestinian state," but would not force concessions on the parties, only work to avoid stalemate. And he affirmed that "Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided." On Iran, Obama said he would "do everything" - everything - to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. "I have no interest in sitting down with men like Ahmadinejad just for the sake of talking. But as president of the United States, I would be willing to lead tough and principled diplomacy... at a time and place of my choosing - if, and only if it can advance the interests of the United States." One speech does not allay all Israeli concerns, certainly not when so many of Obama's pro-Israel advisers are associated with the failed Oslo policies. Still, the senator is to be applauded for his forthrightness. And Israelis need to remember that Oslo was largely a homegrown policy. JOHN McCAIN came to AIPAC with far less political baggage, yet aware that no matter what he said, most US Jews would maintain their historic allegiance to the Democratic Party. A recent Gallop poll shows that 61 percent of Jewish voters intend to vote for Obama. The senator from Arizona and former POW was welcomed warmly by the AIPAC audience, which included his friend Sen. Joseph Lieberman. Looking relaxed and confident, McCain identified himself with the legacy of senator Henry "Scoop" Jackson, beloved in the Jewish world, noting that he made his first trip to Israel with Jackson in 1979. In a far less policy-specific address, McCain too pledged to maintain Israel's qualitative military edge; said America's ties with Israel were unbreakable, and that the two countries were natural allies. He added that the Palestinians were badly led, and that the US ought not to confer approval on Hamas. Stating that "Teheran's continued pursuit of nuclear weapons poses an unacceptable risk, a danger we cannot allow," he criticized Obama's willingness to meet Iranian leaders. He advocated an escalating ladder of international pressure to "peacefully but decisively" change Iran's path. McCain passionately argued that a withdrawal of US forces from Iraq would profoundly affect Israeli security and be catastrophic for the region. The campaigns will now be shifting into lower gear until the respective party conventions at the end of the summer. Meanwhile, for the Jewish state - and its neighbors - this year's policy conference underscored that the America-Israel relationship is a bipartisan affair.