Returning from AIPAC’s 2012 Policy Conference

What I Fear Is The Morning After

(my “sermon” Friday night, March 9th)

I was proud to be one of 13,000 pro-Israel delegates at the 2012 American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference that was held in Washington, DC on March 4th-6th.  As I return to South Florida, I wanted to take this opportunity to share just a few reflections on this incredible event.

First, it is clear to me that the vast majority of Congress, Democratic and Republican Senators and Representatives alike, stand with Israel and her right to protect herself.  Our South Florida Senators and Representative are some of the most pro-Israel folks out there.  Senator Bill Nelson and Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen have both co-sponsored bills that support tougher sanctions against Iran.  We owe them our thanks and appreciation.

Second, “AIPAC” is not a “PAC” – a political action committee.  AIPAC stands for the “American Israel Public Affairs Committee”.  It is a lobbying group.  As such, it does not take sides.  It works to develop strong working relationships with every elected official.  AIPAC’s insistence upon maintaining good relationships with both sides of the aisle frustrates some (even me sometimes!).  However, these good relationships are the key to insuring strong American support for Israel.  AIPAC does not rate, endorse or finance candidates.  This is probably why more than 50% of Congress attended AIPAC’s Gala Event on March 5th.

Third, despite the push by some in Congress to keep Israel from becoming a partisan issue and the bipartisan support in Congress for Israel, Israel is, without a doubt, a very partisan issue.  This was more than evident in the speeches and presentations that I heard at the conference.  This is largely due to the fact that 2012 is an election year and both parties are trying to prove that they have done “good” by Israel.  I attended many “stump speeches” given by politicians attempting to prove that their party done a better job at supporting Israel than the other party.   Despite this, what I truly appreciate about AIPAC is that Democrats and Republicans, right and left, conservatives and liberals and everyone in between can gather together to have healthy debate and discussion about the Jewish State in a tremendously pro-Israel environment.  AIPAC’s tent is huge and many delegates attending the Policy Conference come from incredibly diverse backgrounds.  It was nice to see non-Jews attending the conference and playing such an important role.  Any South Floridian will appreciate that AIPAC’s big tent had room for both Representative Allen West and Representative Debbie Wasserman-Schultz – two members of Congress who don’t often see eye to eye, but who were able to find a home at AIPAC.  AIPAC constantly reminds speakers, presenters and delegates that respect of differing views is a must.  And, for the most part, I felt this respect.

Fourth, and most important, the most pressing issue discussed at the Policy Conference this year was Iran and the desire by the Iranian government to make a nuclear weapon.

There was a lot of talk about why it is so important for us to prevent Iran from getting “the bomb”.  Experts talked about how dangerous Iran is now – without “the bomb”, serving as a base for terror and a source of tremendous unrest.  The terror and violence in Syria is directly linked to Iran.  In addition, the fact that the President of Iran has openly declared his intention to annihilate Israel makes the possibility of Iran owning a nuclear weapon even more alarming.  It has been reported that Iran has missiles that can not only reach Israel, but our own shores here in the US and has openly expressed the desire to do harm to the United States.  Once armed with a nuclear weapon, these missiles become even more potent.  In addition, we were reminded in DC that just blocks away from the site of the Policy Conference, Iran attempted to assassinate the Saudi Arabian Ambassador.  Iran is a dangerous regime. Period.  A nuclear-armed Iran is even more dangerous. Exclaimation mark!

Both President Obama and the Prime Minister Netanyahu addressed AIPAC.  In listening to both men, it is clear to me that there are two major differences between the two of them.

The first difference has to do with the fact that both men lead different countries and, thus, have different priorities.

President Obama is the leader of the United States of America and, as such, is responsible for the safety and security of the USA.  While stopping Iran from getting a nuclear weapon is certainly in the best interest of America – the President is committed to insuring that other aspects pertaining to the safety and well being of Americans are addressed.  Whether it be retaliatory strikes on the United States by Iran after a preemptive strike on her nuclear facilities, exorbitant gas prices that are created by an escalation in the Middle East, or the cost of US involvement in a war with Iran during this economic downturn, President Obama is putting the United States and her citizens  first.

Understandably, Prime Minister Netanyahu sees things very differently.  He puts Israel and her citizens first.  He is responsible for the safety and well being of more than 6,000,000 Jews who call Israel home and 2,000,000 non-Jews who call Israel home.  He is determined to prevent the annihilation of his nation by Iran.  And will do anything to insure the safety and security of the Israeli people.  And when it comes down to it, Israel, not the United States, is on the front lines when it comes to Iran.  The Prime Minister puts Israel first and has to because if Iran gets the bomb, Israel will be affected first and most dramatically.

The second difference has to do with what we are trying to stop Iran from doing. 

President Obama wants to stop Iran from possessing an actual nuclear weapon.  This is clear.  Prime Minister Netanyahu is determined to stop Iran from having the technology needed to create a nuclear weapon.  If Iran has this technology, than she has the ability  to make the bomb and she will.  According to the Prime Minister, once Iran has the technology, it is too late.  And many are questioning how much time we have left before Iran has this technology.  Interestingly enough, it seems that many members of Congress share the Prime Minister’s point of view on this.

Clearly feeling we have more time to pressure Iran than the Prime Minister, President Obama is leaving all options on the table.  As the Policy Conference wrapped up on March 6th, the President agreed to reenter negotiations with Iran, who, after a very tough speech by Prime Minister Netanyahu the night before, in which he made it quite clear that Israel will do whatever it has to do to secure herself, decided to open up a nuclear site to international inspectors, but only after significant details are worked out.

Certainly we’ve been on this road many times before with Iran.  Negotiations have always failed.  But they have been successful in giving Iran more and more time to develop the technology she needs to create a nuclear weapon.  It is no secret that Iran has a history of lying about her nuclear ambitions, making promises to stop enriching uranium, delaying the process, dropping out of agreements, going back to enriching uranium, threatening Israel, the US and others when they push her too far.  Over and over again, the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) has condemned Iran for failing to live up to its end of negotiations.  Over and again, the IAEA goes back into negotiations only to be slapped down again.  The fact is that Iran is enriching uranium.  Iran is very close to or has the capabilities to build a nuclear weapon.

In his powerful speech on March 5th, Netanyahu reminded us that Iran claims to want to use its nuclear technology for medical purposes and to generate power for the country.  The Prime Minister asked us, if this was the case, why does Iran need to hide from the IAEA?  Why has she lied so often? Why are her nuclear facilities built so far underground, hidden away from the world?  If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, the Prime Minister exclaimed, we need to call it is a duck!

The Prime Minister told the crowd of 14,000 people on March 5th that Israel has waited for years as negotiations failed with Iran. Sanctions, even tough ones, have not seemed to stop Iran from seeking the technology needed to build a nuclear weapon and have done nothing to stop Iranian nuclear ambitions.  Even Leon Panetta, now the US Secretary of Defense, argued that sanctions may “help weaken” the Iranian regime and “create serious economic problems” but he cautioned that sanctions, no matter how tough, would probably not curtail Iran’s nuclear dreams.

The efficacy of some tough sanctions that will be kicking into place soon, such as sanctions involving SWIFT (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication) which would cut Iran off from the international banking community, are yet to be seen. AIPAC was lobbying Congress to support such sanctions.

I do not feel that Prime Minister Netanyahu is, as some claim, “beating the drums of war”.  He doesn’t want war.  Who does!?  But he is a realist.   The fact is, if Iran gets the bomb, they will use it.  And if they don’t use it to annihilate Israel, they will use it to control and manipulate not just the Middle East, but the entire world.  And this is not acceptable to Israel and should not acceptable to the US and other global powers.  If negotiations fail (which they probably will), if sanctions fail (which I pray that they don’t – but there is not much time to pray and see results!!!), what do we have left?

While the Prime Minister made it clear that he was not going to talk openly about his country’s plan regarding Iran, he did make it clear that the longer we wait, the closer we get to an Iran capable of building a nuclear weapon.  And this is not something that the Prime Minister is willing to wait for and I can’t blame him.

The most powerful moment of the Prime Minister’s speech was when he pulled out letters from 1944, letters exchanged by the World Jewish Congress and the United States government.  The WJC asked the US to bomb train lines to Auschwitz in a last ditch effort to save the Jews of Europe.  The US response was that it was unclear that such an attack would be effective and that it would certainly provoke a vindictive response from the Germans. What could be worse than the murder of 6,000,000 Jews!?  As the Prime Minister read these letters, all 14,000 people listening to him knew the obvious parallels he was drawing between the Israel and the United States today and the effect that a strike against Iran would have on the safety and security of Israel’s 6,000,000 Jews.  An incredibly powerful statement!

After reading the letters, the Prime Minster reminded us that it is not 1944.  He said very clearly, today, in 2012, America has our back.

But, he did not stop there, however.  He reminded the world that the Jews in 2012 have a State of our own (and a powerful military to go along with it) and the Jewish State will do everything in her power to secure the future of this Jewish State.  The Prime Minister left no one guessing if he had to get the United States’ approval or blessing before going after Iran as he told the crowd: Israel will defend herself, by herself, against any threat.

So, as I leave AIPAC and return to Florida…..

I know that Israel will protect herself if and when it becomes necessary.  I believe that Israel will do what is in her best interests and not what the United States wants her to do. While I hope that Israel will not need to pursue a military option against Iran, I know that if that is what it comes down to, she can and will pursue this option.  And I am comforted by the fact that our Congress appears to be extremely supportive of Israel defending herself as needed.

I know that our Senators and Representatives are working tirelessly to toughen that sanctions against Iran and I pray that somehow, someway, they effect incredible change in a very short period of time.

I worry, however, about the morning after – the morning after Israel decides enough is enough and takes action by eliminating Iran’s nuclear facilities.  I am not worried about Israel’s abilities to do this.  I am also not overly worried about Israel’s abilities to fend off the countless missiles that will be launched against her by Hezbollah and Hamas and others.  It won’t be easy – but Israel can defend herself.  I am worried, however, about the response of our own country.  President Obama says he has Israel’s back.  But if Israel attacks without the blessing of the President, what will this mean?  How will he respond?  When the UN and nations across the globe attack Israel for being aggressive, what will President Obama say?  What will he say as gas prices escalate and, perhaps, the US is hit with retaliation by Iran?  Will he still have Israel’s back?  And I worry about the response of our fellow Americans who will have to pay higher gas prices and live in a world that might feel unsafe as a result of an angry Iran.  What will they say about us – the Jews, the supporters of Israel, the nation that “caused this problem”!?  And, I even worry about us!  Will we stand by Israel during this trying time?  Will we be willing to support Israel’s actions or will we join the cry against the Jewish nation?  It is one thing to say that we have Israel’s back, that we support her now that things are “okay”, but what about the morning after the attack as the global rage against Israel roars across the planet?  What will we feel like at that time?  This is what I worry about.

But, I pray that such an attack won’t be necessary.  I pray that sanctions will cripple the Iranian regime and Israel will be safe.  But, if the Prime Minister of Israel determines that it is in Israel’s best interests to pursue a military option, I pray that the United States not only has Israel’s back, but stands by Israel’s side as the Jewish nation takes the lead in protecting the world from a nuclear Iran.  May it be so…..

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