At AIPAC, Netanyahu joins chorus against Omar: It’s not about the Benjamins
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At AIPAC, Netanyahu joins chorus against Omar: It’s not about the Benjamins

Prime minister says Americans have a bond with Israel over shared values, not money; ‘This from a man facing indictments,’ Minnesota lawmaker scoffs in response

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks from Israel via video link at the annual AIPAC conference in Washington on March 26, 2019. ( Jim Watson/AFP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks from Israel via video link at the annual AIPAC conference in Washington on March 26, 2019. ( Jim Watson/AFP)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday delivered a blistering attack on rising “forces” that want to tear Israel and the US apart, vowing that the Jewish people will stand up to anyone trying to harm them and their state.

Addressing AIPAC’s annual Policy Conference in Washington, Netanyahu did not mention Minnesota Congresswoman Ilhan Omar by name, but was clearly referring to her recent criticism of the pro-Israeli lobby when he said that it was “not about the Benjamins.”

In February, the freshman lawmaker had tweeted that “It’s all about the Benjamins baby,” in reference to AIPAC’s allegedly vast influence on American politics.

Benjamins are a slang term for $100 bills, which feature US founding father Benjamin Franklin.

After Omar was criticized for her use of what many saw as an anti-Semitic canard, the Somalia-born legislator removed the tweet and apologized.

Netanyahu, addressing some 18,000 AIPAC activists in Washington via satellite from Tel Aviv, joined other speakers who had attacked Omar at the lobby’s annual policy conference.

“Some people will just never get it. They will never understand why the vast majority of Americans, Jews and non-Jews alike, support Israel. Take it from this Benjamin: it’s not about the Benjamins,” he said.

“The reason the people of America support Israel is not because they want our money. It’s because they share our values,” he went on. “It’s because America and Israel share a love of freedom and democracy. Because we cherish individual rights and the rule of law. It’s because we don’t judge people by the color of their skin, their religion, or their sexual orientation.”

Omar responded to Netanyahu’s broadside on Twitter by referencing the prime minister’s legal woes.

During his 10-minute speech, Netanyahu also briefly addressed the volatile security situation in Israel’s south, and thanked US President Donald Trump for his recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

“Now that deserves enormous applause,” he said.

“The Golan Heights is indispensable for our defense. It’s part of our history. When you put a shovel in the ground there what you discover are the ruins of ancient synagogues. Jews lived there for thousands of years and the people of Israel have come back to the Golan,” he said.

“Israel holds the high ground, and we shall never, ever give it up. It is part of Israel.”

US President Donald Trump holds up a signed proclamation recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks on in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House in Washington, March 25, 2019. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

He also defended Israel’s controversial Jewish nation-state law, stressing that all Israelis have equal individual rights. “I am proud of Israel’s vibrant democracy where no one — no one — is a second class citizen. All of Israel’s citizens are first-class citizens.”

Contrary to “false attacks and allegations,” the law did not walk back any individual rights, “which remain sacred and equal for all our citizens. And it will always be that way,” the prime minister vowed.

Critics of the nation-state law have said it enshrines non-Jews as second-class citizens. Netanyahu has also been accused of race-baiting during the campaign by insinuating Arab political parties are illegitimate.

His political maneuvering to bring the racist Otzma Yehudit party into the Knesset drew wide rebuke, including rare pushback from AIPAC, which has tried to remain bipartisan even as Netanyahu’s open embrace of US President Donald Trump has led some to question the future of two-party support of Israel.

Netanyahu called for the preservation of strong US-Israel relations and vowed to fight all those who seek to harm these ties and the Jewish people overall.

“In recent weeks, we’ve heard a lot about the rise of forces who want to pull America and Israel apart. So I can tell you one thing. I guarantee you this. They will fail,” he proclaimed. “Our shared values are too deep. Our shared interests too strong. Our shared destiny too intertwined.”

Presumably referring to Omar and other critics of the administration’s Middle East policies, Netanyahu spoke of the need to confront those seeking to “defame” AIPAC and undermine American support for Israel.

“Despite what they claim, they do not merely criticize the policies of Israel’s government,” he said. “They do something else. They spew venom that has long been directed at the Jewish people.”

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) participates in a House Education and Labor Committee Markup on the H.R. 582 Raise The Wage Act, in the Rayburn House Office Building on March 6, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images/AFP)

“Again, the Jews are cast as a force for evil. Again, the Jews are charged with disloyalty. Again, the Jews are said to have too much influence, too much power, too much money,” he lamented.

The best response to people who hate Jews is standing up to them, he said.

“So I have a message to all the anti-Semites out there — whether they live in modern Persia, in the palaces of Tehran or the bunkers of Beirut; whether they march through the streets of Charlottesville or murder worshipers in a synagogue in Pittsburgh; whether they voice their hatred in political parties in Britain, or Europe, or the United States: The Jewish people do not bow down. We stand up. We fight. And we win.”

Netanyahu was originally scheduled to address the conference in person, but on Monday cut short his trip to DC in light of the volatile security situation in Israel.

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