WASHINGTON – Supporters of Israeli settlements in the West Bank held an event on the sidelines of the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in Washington on Monday, at the same time that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Donald Trump held talks at the White House.
The event, organized by Israel’s Ministry for Strategic Affairs and the Yesha Council, an umbrella organization of the settler movement, focused on fighting against calls to boycott products made in settlements.
More than a hundred people gathered to hear Israeli ministers from the right-wing coalition – including Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Habayit Hayehudi), Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (Habayit Hayehudi) and Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz (Likud) – all of whom expressed their strong support for maintaining Israel's presence in the West Bank and for rejecting any peace plan that involves the creation of a Palestinian state there.
At the event, which took place at the Sixth & I Synagogue in downtown Washington, Steinitz said that "Israel cannot survive" without holding on to that region. Shaked praised the Trump administration for its "courageous" decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and added that the administration is "very friendly" toward Israel. Bennett used his speech to express support for Netanyahu in light of the mounting corruption investigations involving him. Bennett said that he believes and hopes that Netanyahu did not commit any crimes and will not be indicted.
Israel's Consul General in New York, Dani Dayan, said that boycotts against Israeli settlements in the West Bank are no different than boycotts against Israel within its internationally recognized borders – a position that many left-wing U.S. Jews disagree with. Dayan said that "we have political arguments between us – that's legitimate. You can hold your positions, others can hold theirs, but refraining from visiting, talking, buying, and knowing each other – that's bigotry." He compared such a position to "support for BDS,” the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions Movement.
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The event took place a day after AIPAC's senior leadership used the opening night of the conference to reemphasize the committee’s long-held position of support for a two-state solution, expressing hope that the Palestinians will have their own state as a result of peace talks with Israel. That position was praised by supporters and allies of the powerful lobby within progressive circles in the U.S. Jewish community, but received criticism from right-wing figures in Israel and in the U.S.
The pro-settlement event in Washington was also met with opposition from an Arab lawmaker from the Meretz party who tried to put an end to the conference.
MK Esawi Freij publicly urged the attorney general and the civil service commissioner to stop the event and said that depending on their answers, he might urgently petition the High Court of Justice to issue an order to end it.
"The ministry’s goals involve fighting delegitimization of Israel, not promoting the values of the Yesha Council of settlements in favor of annexing the occupied territories, or 'embracing Judea and Samaria,'" Freij wrote to Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit.
At the event at Sixth & I, none of the official Israeli speakers criticized AIPAC directly for its position on two states. Shaked said that AIPAC's work is important for Israel, and other speakers said they hoped that next year, a similar event in support of settlements and opposition to settlement boycotts will take place within the conference center where AIPAC holds its conference.