WASHINGTON – Benjamin Netanyahu will speak at the 2019 AIPAC Policy Conference, the pro-Israel lobby group said Saturday, a day after it condemned a controversial political union endorsed by the Israeli prime minister.
An AIPAC official told Haaretz the announcement was pre-planned for Saturday and not related to the lobby’s criticism of the extremist Otzma Yehudit party.
The heads of other leading parties have also been invited to speak at this year’s conference in Washington, including former Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Benny Gantz and his co-chairman in the centrist Kahol Lavan alliance, Yair Lapid. While Lapid is expected to appear before the conference, it is not yet clear if Gantz will also speak.
AIPAC’s statement about Netanyahu’s speech came a day after the group issued a rare denunciation of Israeli politics. It slammed the far-right Otzma Yehudit, following criticism of the far-right party from other leading Jewish-American groups such as the American Jewish Committee, as well as prominent Jewish members of Congress, including Rep. Jerry Nadler (Democrat of New York).
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Otzma Yehudit, led by followers of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, formed a joint slate last week with the religious-Zionist Habayit Hayehudi party ahead of the April 9 election. The deal was encouraged and orchestrated by Netanyahu.
AIPAC endorsed AJC’s repudiation of Otzma Yehudit and added: “AIPAC has a long-standing policy not to meet with members of this racist and reprehensible party.” This was seen as a very unusual step for AIPAC, which usually never comments on internal Israeli politics.
While the statement made major headlines in Israel, many within the American-Jewish community treated it with skepticism, noting that AIPAC failed to directly mention Netanyahu, who was the chief architect of the election pact.
Among the critics was former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk, who wrote: “Maybe AIPAC should consider disinviting Netanyahu from addressing its annual conference two weeks before the Israeli elections. Otherwise it will look like it too is enabling Bibi's reelection.”
Otzma Yehudit responded to AIPAC's denouncement on Saturday, saying the group’s members should live in the Jewish state “before they get involved in the elections.”