Gantz to deliver ‘keynote speech’ at upcoming AIPAC conference

Prime ministerial hopeful, set to address powerful lobby a day before Netanyahu, vows to ‘rebuild’ relationship with US Jewry and bipartisan support for Israel

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

Israel Resilience party chairman Benny Gantz speaks at the 55th Munich Security Conference in southern Germany, February 17, 2019. (Thomas Kienzle/AFP)
Israel Resilience party chairman Benny Gantz speaks at the 55th Munich Security Conference in southern Germany, February 17, 2019. (Thomas Kienzle/AFP)

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz will address the upcoming AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, his aides confirmed Tuesday.

Gantz, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s main rival in the April 9 Knesset elections, will deliver “a keynote speech” in front of an expected crowd of 18,000 participants on Monday, March 25, they said.

Netanyahu, who is expected to meet with US President Donald Trump at the White House that day, will address the conference on Tuesday.

“Gantz will use his speech to emphasize that after the election he will work to rebuild the relationship with American Jewry and ensure that Israel will once again enjoy the support of its friends across the spectrum in the United States,” Blue and White said in a statement.

“As prime minister, Gantz will strengthen and deepen the strategic relationship with the United States in both foreign and defense policy with a focus on counter-terrorism. The US-Israel relationship is based on shared values and mutual interest,” it said.

Yair Lapid, Blue and White’s number two, will not speak at this year’s Policy Conference.

Labor party chairman Avi Gabbay is expected to address the event on Sunday, March 24.

New Right party co-chair Naftali Bennett is also set to address the conference, his spokesman said.

Israeli prime ministers are regular invitees at the powerful Israel lobby’s annual conference, as are senior opposition figures.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual policy conference at the Washington Convention Center March 6, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/AFP)

AIPAC views itself as a nonpartisan organization working to strengthen bilateral US-Israel relations. But last month, the group issued a tweet condemning the extremist Otzma Yehudit party that was seen as a rebuke Netanyahu, who had made great efforts to ensure the list would be able to enter the Knesset.

At the time, some of Netanyahu’s political rivals noted that the organization rarely comments on Israeli politics, and accused the prime minister of having caused damage to the US-Israel relationship.

“The rare reaction by AIPAC, an organization that does not usually touch on internal Israeli politics, proves that Benjamin Netanyahu has once again crossed ethical red lines just to keep his seat, while causing serious harm to Israel’s image, Jewish morality and our important relationship with American Jewry,” tweeted Gantz.

“No one should have any doubts, this is the most important Jewish organization in the world, with significant repercussions, enough said. When AIPAC speaks in such a manner, it is a real crisis,” said Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman.

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