WASHINGTON – Last year, newly minted U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley appeared at the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in Washington, wowed the crowd and was dubbed the new rock star of American Jewry.
At this year’s conference, like fans at a concert of one of their favorite bands, the 18,000 AIPAC activists were already fired up and ready to hear her greatest hits. And sure enough, a relaxed and confident Haley took the stage, leaping up for the first of what would be twelve standing ovations over the course of her 20-minute speech, in which she repeatedly praised Israel and bashed the United Nations – and painted herself as a feisty champion of the Jewish state.
If the AIPAC conference had been the GOP Iowa presidential caucuses, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence would be facing a formidable challenge if he aspired to succeed U.S. President Donald Trump. Haley would have beaten him hands down. She left both Pence and the speaker between them, Minority Leader Senator Chuck Schumer, in the dust. Schumer’s Yiddishisms and Pence’s Midwestern pious sincerity (marred by an embarrassing gaffe confusing “pro-life and “pro-Israel”) were no match for Haley’s southern charm.
Haley opened with a declaration of humor and affection for the crowd. "When I come to AIPAC, I am with friends. And at the UN, we don't usually have very many friends."
She told, as she has before, the story of when Trump asked her to be UN ambassador and she warned him that she would “refuse to be a wallflower and say exactly what I think” and that he said in response that this was “exactly why” he wanted her in the job.
Her anecdotes of being bullied growing up as an Indian-American in the South and how that brought her to fight school bullying – and later bullying of Israel and the United States in the diplomatic arena in the UN – won over the crowd.
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Next came an example of standing up to bullying in the form of top Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, who said last month that Haley “needs to shut up and realize the Palestinian leadership is not the problem.”
"Some of you might have seen that the top Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, recently had some advice for me,” Haley said. “He told me to shut up. Mr. Erekat, I will always be respectful, but I will never shut up."
“We love you, Nikki!” exclaimed a voice in the crowd, interrupting her in the middle of her remarks. “I love you, too,” she responded.
Howard and Rachel Nieman, a pro-Trump couple from New York, said they were both deeply impressed by Haley, describing her as something of a Wonder Woman ready to battle the forces of evil out to harm Israel and the United States.
“She was confident, unafraid, willing to look the dark side straight in the eye and defy it,” said Howard. “I see her righting a wrong as old as the very first time a United Nations voted to condemn Israel. She struck such a chord with her fearlessness. We are so grateful to the president for choosing Nikki Haley to right the wrongs of the UN, rob it of its hypocrisy and turn it into what it is supposed to be.”
“For me, she’s the next president,” said Rachel. “Her smile – her humor – all of it connected with me.”