WASHINGTON — The American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) annual policy conference is designed to cultivate bipartisan support for Israel, but US Vice President Mike Pence turned his address there Monday into a political rally for US President Donald Trump, said Florida Congressman Ted Deutch.
Deutch, a Democrat, lamented Pence’s starting a chant of “four more years” in the middle of his speech, which Deutch said was an attempt to turn the forum into a rallying cry for the president’s re-election.
“I expected him to be political, but one would think that he would have appreciated the damage it does to the US-Israel relationship when you encourage this big bipartisan group to start chanting ‘four more years!'” the congressman told The Times of Israel. “That was really troubling.”
In an interview on the sidelines of conference, the veteran lawmaker said that Pence broke the precedent of the confab by trying to politicize Israel in Washington.
“The consistent theme for all of the AIPAC conference for all of the years I’ve been coming is the importance of maintaining bipartisan support,” Deutch said. “The vice president has been to a lot of conferences. He should know better.”
He went on, “When he tried to lead that group in a chant of four more years, he tried to turn it into a political event.”
Beyond the chant, Pence also issued a scathing attack on Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, who he said would be the “most anti-Israel president” in American history if elected.
“The most pro-Israel president in history must not be replaced by one who would be the most anti-Israel president in the history of this nation,” he told a crowd of 18,000 gathered in the nation’s capital. “That’s why we need four more years of President Trump in the White House.”
US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman was likewise highly partisan, attacking Democrats for not supporting the Trump Mideast peace plan.
Sanders boycotted the AIPAC conference, tweeting that it provided a platform to “express bigotry and oppose basic Palestinian rights.” In the past, Sanders has said he supports Israel’s right to exist and would ensure its security, but has castigated Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and said he believes the US should take a more “evenhanded” approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Deutch, who is Jewish, also criticized Sanders for his AIPAC attack. “I was really disappointed,” he said. “As a proudly progressive Democrat for whom support for Israel and a two-state solution and dignity for the Palestinians is central to who I am as a progressive Democrat, to suggest that somehow that’s an unacceptable part of my progressive worldview, just gets it wrong.”
Still, the legislator was most troubled with Pence. The vice president’s rhetoric, he said, was consistent with the White House’s past behavior, and likely a sign of things to come in 2020.
“Unfortunately, the Trump administration has attempted to weaponize and attempted to divide the community on the issue of support for Israel,” he said. (Trump has in the past said Democrats “hate Israel” and “hate Jewish people.”)
Deutch said he expects more language like that throughout the campaign, regardless of who ultimately secures the nomination.
“Of course that’s what the president’s going to try to do, no matter who the nominee is,” he said. “That’s what the vice president did today in his speech to AIPAC.”