US officials vow support for Israel at AIPAC conference

Gathering takes place at a time when there is a widening political divide in the US over the Israel-Palestine conflict.

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    Washington, DC, United States - US officials including Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo with more than a dozen US lawmakers appeared on stage on the second day of AIPAC's annual conference to vow support for Israel as it responded to an alleged rocket attack by Hamas with air strikes on Gaza.

    Pence listed the policy moves President Donald Trump had taken to support Israel, drawing applause from about 18,000 attendees at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee gathering.

    "Under President Donald Trump, if the world knows nothing else the world knows this: America stands with Israel," Pence said.

    Trump meeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House, signed a declaration recognising Israeli control of the Golan Heights.

    "President Trump also promised to shut down the PLO office in Washington if the Palestinian Authority didn't promise to take immediate steps to stop funding terrorists who murder innocent Israeli civilians with American tax dollars and when the PLO refused, President Trump shut their office down," Pence said.

    "When President Trump promised to cut off funding to anti-Israel agencies at the United Nations, he meant it. And last year, the United States ended all US contributions to UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East]," the vice president said.

    "Beyond all that, the president promised to stand up to the world's leading state sponsor of terror, and he withdrew the United States of America from the disastrous nuclear deal with Iran. There will be no more pallets of cash to the mullahs in Iran," Pence said.

    "Last year President Trump did what no American president for the last 20 years had the courage to do when he moved the American embassy to Jerusalem, the capital of the state of Israel," Pence said.

    Rising anti-Semitism

    Referring to Jerusalem as the "eternal capital of Israel", Pompeo recounted his recent visit to Israel when he became the first US secretary of state to visit the Western Wall with an Israeli prime minister.

    Pompeo warned of rising anti-Semitism worldwide in the Middle East, Europe and the US. "The United States stands with the Jewish people and Israel in the fight against the world's oldest bigotry," Pompeo said.

    "My friends, let me go on record, anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism," Pompeo said, drawing applause.

    Following the alleged Hamas rocket attack in Israel on Monday, former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley criticised the United Nations and other Western nations for failing to support Israel at such moments.

    "What's interesting is, at the UN, I can guarantee you it is radio silent. They are not saying anything about Hamas," Haley said. "But if it was any one of those countries they'd be calling an emergency Security Council meeting."

    Condemning Hamas

    Representative Elliot Engel of New York, chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, and other foreign affairs leaders in the House and Senate are circulating a "Dear Colleague" letter condemning Hamas to demonstrate unwavering US support, Engel said.

    "The US-Israel relationship has to remain strong," Engel said. "It is good to see so many AIPAC activists because we want to take that message to Capitol Hill."

    AIPAC members are poised to visit members of Congress in their offices in the US Capitol on Tuesday.

    Representative Nita Lowey, a New York Democrat who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, said she expects Congress to approve a $3.8bn aid package for Israel, especially she said, with support from AIPAC members who will be lobbying their members of Congress on Tuesday.

    "There are 18,000 citizens of the United States of America who are here. And when you come to our offices, you understand the issues, you are well prepared, so you have the respect of members. Sometimes there are disagreements, but when you come and share the facts, there is support from both sides of the aisle because you know what you are talking about," Lowey said.

    Representative Kay Granger, a Texas Republican on Appropriations, said support for Israel in the Congress had always been bipartisan and the rocket attack should be seen as evidence to the imperative for continuing support.

    "Just look at what happened this morning. It couldn't be more timely," Granger said. "It is proof that you can never ever let your guard down."

    'Deeply disturbed'

    Organisers of the AIPAC conference assembled a series of panel events to promote the idea that support for Israel is bipartisan among Democrats and Republicans, even as some Republican speakers drew applause for condemning Representative Ilhan Omar, a Minnesota Democrat who has criticised AIPAC.

    "I am deeply disturbed by some in the Congress who are threatening this alliance. I don't think I've seen this in the 15 years that I've been in the Congress and don't have a tolerance for that," said Representative Michael McFaul, the senior Republican on the House Foreign Relations Committee.

    "I just think we have a duty and an obligation to denounce anti-Semitism in all of its forms," McFaul said.

    The AIPAC conference is happening at a time when there is a widening political divide in the US over the Israel-Palestine conflict. Americans, particularly on the left, are increasingly unhappy with Israel's treatment of the Palestinians.

    None of the Democrats seeking the party's 2020 presidential nomination was scheduled to appear at the conference. The progressive US grassroots political organisation MoveOn urged Democrats to #skipAIPAC.

    Other US politicians from both parties who appeared on AIPAC's stage included: top House Republican Kevin McCarthy, freshman members of the House of Representatives David Trone, Elaine Luria, Dan Crenshaw, Susie Lee, and Denver Riggleman and Senators Tammy Duckworth, Martha McSally, Kyrsten Sinema, and Jim Risch.

    "BDS is pure unadulterated racism," said Risch, who is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. His comments echoed others at the conference who condemned the pro-Palestinian-rights BDS movement that advocates boycotts, divestiture and sanctions on Israel in order to pressure the nation to change its policies.

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    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News