Netanyahu at AIPAC: 'Take It From This Benjamin, It's Not About the Benjamins'

Prime minister speaks via satellite after cutting Washington visit short over Israel-Gaza fighting

Amir Tibon
Noa Landau
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Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu speaks on screen from Israel, during the AIPAC annual meeting in Washington, March 26, 2019.
Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu speaks on screen from Israel, during the AIPAC annual meeting in Washington, March 26, 2019.Credit: Jim Watson/AFP
Amir Tibon
Noa Landau

WASHINGTON — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denied criticism of U.S. support for Israel in his speech before the annual AIPAC Policy Conference, transmitted live via satellite Tuesday, after cutting short his visit to the American capital in light of a rocket from Gaza hitting a home in central Israel early Monday morning, wounding seven. Netanyahu returned to Israel after meeting U.S. President Donald Trump in the White House.

The much-anticipated conference has stirred controversy in recent days, after several leading Democratic presidential contenders, including senators Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris, and former Congressman Beto O’Rourke, announcing they would not be attending.

Haaretz Weekly Episode 20Credit: Haaretz

>> Trump's Golan Heights declaration: What does it mean and what happens now | Explained ■ Trump just boosted Netanyahu – but handed Putin an even more priceless gift | Opinion ■ Hamas rocket rains on Netanyahu’s victory parade with Trump | Analysis ■ With confident AIPAC performance, Gantz shows U.S. there is an alternative to Bibi | Analysis

Tuesday, 3:33 P.M.: 'It's not about the Benjamins,' Netanyahu tells AIPAC

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tells AIPAC conference, in a speech transmitted via satellite and marred with technical glitches: "Take it from this Benjamin, it's not about the Benjamins," referring to Rep. Ilhan Omar's controversial tweets slamming the pro-Israel lobby.

Speaking from the Israeli military headquarters in Tel Aviv, Netanyahu argues that U.S. support for Israel "is not because they want our money, it’s because they share our values," calling for continued bipartisan support for Israel.

Netanyahu further argues "those who seek to undermine American support for Israel must be confronted," saying they don't stop at criticism of Israel's policies but "spew venom that has long been directed at the Jewish people. ... To all the anti-Semites out there — we stand up, we fight and we win."

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Thanking Trump for his recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over the disputed Golan Heights “on behalf of all the people of Israel,” Netanyahu says: “The Golan Heights is indispensable for our defense. It's part of our history … and we shall never, ever give it up. It is part of Israel.”

Netanyahu also uses his speech to rebuke criticism of his government’s policies conerning non-Orthodox Jews and Israel’s non-Jewish minorities. Israel "is a home for all Jews," and all Israelis are “first-class citizens,” Netanyahu says, referring to criticism of the nation-state law. “All citizens have exactly the same individual rights,” which “remain sacred.”

Tuesday, 3:06 P.M.: Trump is Israel's 'best friend ever,' ambassador says

U.S. ambassador to Israel David Friedman praises President Trump, for whom Friedman worked for years as a bankruptcy lawyer, as “the best friend Israel ever had in the White House.”

Retired Israeli general Benny Gantz, one of the leaders of the Blue and White (Kahol Lavan) political alliance, speaks during the AIPAC annual meeting in Washington, DC, March 25, 2019Credit: AFP

Anyone who doesn’t agree with this statement “should take a deep breath and think about it,” he says in conference speech.

Friedman also says that U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem will be expanded over the upcoming months.

Tuesday, 2:53 P.M.: Pelosi: 'To be anti-Semitic is to be anti-American'

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi says that “to be anti-Semitic is to be anti-American,” to applause from the crowd.

She emphasizes that while it is acceptable to criticize Israel and have a debate about the country’s policies, that should be done “without questioning loyalty or patriotism“ — clearly referring to the words of Rep. Ilhan Omar about AIPAC.

Pelosi also says she won’t let anyone turn Israel into a “wedge” issue in American politics, hinting at President Trump and Vice President Pence’s attempts to use Israel for partisan attacks against the Democratic Party.

Tuesday, 2:00 P.M.: Netanyahu to address AIPAC conference via satellite at 9:15 A.M. Eastern Time, 3:15 P.M. Israel time.

Tuesday, 4:50 A.M.: At AIPAC, Schumer attacks Trump and GOP congressional leader for anti-Semitism

Monday, 4:46 P.M.: Mike Pence condemns use of 'rank anti-Semitic language' in Congress

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence tells AIPAC he condemns use of "rank anti-Semitic language" in Congress, criticizing Ilhan Omar without naming her: "Anti-Semitism has no place in the Congress of the United States of America."

Pence says that anyone who questions the U.S.-Israel alliance "should not have a seat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a joint press conference with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, at Netanyahu's official residence in Jerusalem, March 21, 2019.Credit: Amir Cohen/Pool via AP

"Eight Democratic presidential contenders are boycotting this conference. It is wrong to boycott Israel and it is wrong to boycott AIPAC," Pence says.

Pence gets applause for cutting UNRWA funding and for leaving the Iran deal, saying: "There will be no more pallets of cash to the mullahs in Iran."

He also condemns Hamas rocket attacks and says the United States will never negotiate with Hamas.

Monday, 4:06 P.M.: Gantz says 'the Western Wall is long enough to accommodate everyone'

"Before going to battle, I never checked to see who had a kippa under their helmets. The divisive dialogue is tearing our nation apart," Gantz says, while stressing there will be "no Kahanists running our country; there will be no racists and no corruption leading our way."

Monday, 4:03 P.M.: Gantz says Israel would negotiate peace with 'any honest Arab leader'

Former army chief of staff says Jerusalem will always remain the united capital of Israel and that "we will never withdraw from the Golan Heights."

Monday, 3:53 P.M.: Benny Gantz says 'Jewish soldiers have the computer code of the F-35 and the moral code of the prophets of Israel'

Gantz receives multiple standing ovations during a speech that is well-received by the AIPAC crowd. He discusses his son's service in the Paratroopers Brigade and speaks about his role in the secret operation to bring Ethiopian Jews to Israel.

Gantz makes a quip about his cellphone. saying: "The Iranian regime — you know me, you know my friends, and not only through my phone. We will not hesitate to attack you and defend ourselves." The remark draws laughter and applause from attendees.

Monday, 3:41 P.M.: Bill de Blasio: I came to make 'progressive' case for Israel

Speaking at the conference, New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio says he came to make a "progressive" case for Israel, highlighting Israel's health care and gun laws, and its role as a country that "provides shelter to an oppressed people." The mayor also says he "deeply" opposes the BDS movement.

Monday, 1:35 P.M.: Hamas rocket rains on Netanyahu’s victory parade with Trump

The electoral asset of the prime minister’s sterling ties to a president reborn after the Mueller report are outweighed by perceptions that he is soft on the Gaza group, writes Chemi Shalev.

Monday, 8:05 A.M.: Netanyahu cuts short Washington visit after rocket hits house in central Israel

The Israeli prime minister will return to Israel after meeting Trump in light of a Gaza rocket that wounded seven in central Israel. He will not give a speech at AIPAC. “When someone accuses American supporters of dual loyalty I say accuse me,” Hoyer said.

Netanyahu may still deliver the speech he was meant to give at AIPAC over satellite from Israel.

Monday, 1:30 A.M.: Democratic majority leader takes aim at Ilhan Omar at AIPAC conference

Representative Steny Hoyer tells AIPAC that Congresswoman Ilhan Omar is not representative of the Democrats when it comes to Israel.

Sunday, 8:40 P.M.: Romanian president slams 'ignorant' prime minister: Embassy won't move to Jerusalem

Romania's president contradicts the country's prime minister after she said Bucharest would move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, calling her "ignorant" and noting that he has the final say in the matter.

Sunday, 6:24 P.M.: Netanyahu 'crossed all red lines' in submarine sale affair, Gantz says

Benny Gantz, co-leader of the Kahol Lavan political alliance, tells Israeli reporters covering the conference that he rejects as absurd Prime Minister Netanyahu's claim that he approved submarine sale to Egypt without informing chief of staff or defense minister because of "state secrets."

Sunday, 5:35 P.M.: Senior Palestinian official responds to Romania, Israeli official confirms Trump's Golan recognition

Chief Palestinian negotiator Dr. Saeb Erekat commented on Romania's announcement that it will be moving its embassy to Jerusalem, calling it "a blatant violation of Palestinian rights, international law, and UN reslolutions." He added that "it only contributes to eliminating the two-state solution, the only way toward peace and stability in the whole region."

Acting Israeli Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz also confirmed that U.S. President Donald Trump will be signing an executive order Monday to officially recognize Israel's sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

"We received word now that the leaders of Honduras and Romania announced their intentions to move their embassies to Jerusalem," he tweeted. "Tomorrow, President Trump will sign, in the presence of Prime Minister Netanyahu, an order that recognizes the sovereignty of Israel in the Golan. Israel-U.S. relations are tightening like never before."

Sunday, 4:10 P.M.: Yair Netanyahu to speak at AIPAC youth reception

AIPAC confirms it will host a reception for “young leaders” with Yair Netanyahu, the son of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, during this year’s policy conference.

Sunday, 4:05 P.M.: Into the Mueller storm

As Netanyahu lands in D.C., he would welcome a presidential assertion that both him and President Trump are victims of a conspiracy and witch hunt," writes Haaretz columnist Chemi Shalev.

Sunday, 4:00 P.M.: How to fix a divisive AIPAC?

In order to return to the path of bipartisanship, AIPAC must abandon some of its long-entrenched habits, writes Allison Kaplan Sommer.

Sunday, 3:45 P.M.: Romania says will transfer embassy to Jerusalem

Romanian Prime Minister Viorica Dancila said during a speech before the AIPAC conference in Washington that her country intends to move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. Last year, Dancila submitted a draft resolution to her cabinet that would move the embassy, but ran into opposition from the country's president.

The president of Honduras also said that his government will open a diplomatic trade office in the city, and hinted that if AIPAC would lobby on behalf of his country, he will consider opening an embassy there, too.

Friday, March 22: AIPAC downplays absence of Democratic contenders

Several leading Democratic presidential contenders said they will not be attending this year’s AIPAC Policy Conference, but the pro-Israel lobby downplayed the significance of their statements, reports Amir Tibon. “Since 2008, we have only had presidential candidates in election years,” said AIPAC.

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