Prior to making scheduled lobbying visits to the Hill, delegates to the 2013 AIPAC Conference in Washington, DC were primed for the closer by U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), newly-appointed Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The senator’s remarks, his first major public appearance since his return from a recent mission to Afghanistan and Pakistan, detailed realpolitik in a way no earlier AIPAC 2013 speaker had done.
Acknowledging the 500-strong NJ delegation led by Steve Klinghoffer and Mike Levin, the Senator acknowledged his “new role as Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee,” a committee which “has helped shape American foreign policy through the complex geopolitics of our ever-changing world…helping “every American president—from Harry Truman to Barack Obama—protect and defend our fundamental promise to stand with Israel and the Israeli people in a strong and lasting alliance.”
The audience roared with approval as Menendez assured “there will never be daylight between the United States and Israel on my watch—never—not on my watch.” The new FRC Chairman referred to the Vice President’s mention of the “imperative that Israel be able to defend itself: “I couldn’t agree more,” he declared.
The senator also spoke with Jewish Link of Bergen County (JLBC). When asked if there is an effect from internal Palestinian problems on peace negotiations, he replied, “We look to President Abbas as the elected leadership of the Palestinian people and hope that if he comes to the negotiating table in good faith, it would spark an aspiration and hope that exists among the Palestinian people. If we move forward in good faith, we could strengthen his role, and move towards our ultimate goal—a two-state solution with peaceful secure boundaries, and above all, security for the State of Israel.”
Could he think of anyone in the leadership pipeline able to carry the flag of the Palestinian authority should President Abbas not be available?
The diplomat in Menendez responded: “I don’t think it’s for the U.S. to look towards who in the Palestinian Authority the people would choose as leader. We stand ready to work with anyone willing to follow the path to peace; one willing to enter into a negotiated settlement with the government of Israel and seek to live side by side—a leader who looks to peace and to fulfill the hopes and dreams and aspirations of his people. We stand ready to work with anyone willing to follow the path of peace. Right now that is President Abbas.”
Menendez now sits in one of the most sensitive and powerful positions in American government. He was clear to the AIPAC delegates about his policy and said, “I look forward to doing even more to strengthen our commitment to Israel, to our shared democratic values. …The strength of Israel’s democracy will remain a beacon of hope for good governance, economic progress, and the power of an enlightened society to foster democratic ideals,” and promised protection of democratic ideals and “military strength where necessary.”
“As Chairman,” he assured the crowd. “I intend to keep us ahead of the curve when it comes to present and future threats to our security.” In this, Menendez included the close U.S.-Israel relationship which “has reached unprecedented levels.”
Specifically including himself among the members of the administration who favor engagement, the Senator called for Americans to “roll up our sleeves and engage in support of our ideals, values, and interests” with no compromise (of) our democratic principles, our commitment to human rights, to tolerant political discourse, and—above all—to Israel’s security.” The house reverberated with the delegates’ affirmation.
Menendez also minced no words when he called Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan’s recent remarks on Zionism “uncalled for and offensive,” and demanded that he retract his remarks. In this rebuke, he joined Secretary of State John Kerry and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who strongly protested Erdogan’s hate-filled statement, once again equating Zionism with racism, at a U.N. conference in Europe.
Before the conference, and timed to coincide with its introduction to Congress, Menendez and Republican Senator Lindsay Graham, authored a bi-partisan resolution calling for American support of Israel if she must attack Iran. (See story p.1) Passage by both houses of Congress is expected, and that will raise US-Israel relations to an higher level.
Menendez stressed the need for partnerships that will guide emerging regimes towards stability: “For the good of the region—for the good of Israel, and for our own security interests—we must work with Egypt and help steer it in the right direction.”
A supporter of the two-state solution, he added, “It is critical that the Palestinians come back to the negotiating table and stop the stunts, distractions, and grandstanding…There has to be a negotiated settlement. There must be partners for peace.” After his speech he told reporters, “You can’t do it at the United Nations.”
He also said that he would seek additional funding for Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile defense system to “ensure Israel has the defensive and offensive capabilities it needs—when it needs them.”
Menendez’s position on Iran is clear: “We cannot—we must not—and we will not stand for a nuclear Iran. Period!... Containment is not an option…Our clear intention must be to prevent Iran from ever reaching nuclear capacity.”
The Chairman encouraged the implementation of sanctions in addition to those “that are now strangling the Iranian economy.” and noted that “Sanctions are our last peaceful diplomacy tool… we must also make clear—as President Obama has said—that all options are on the table…
He concluded with this: “There can be no denying the Jewish people’s legitimate right to live in peace and security on a homeland to which they have had a connection for thousands of years….Let us pray that it be so. Shalom.”
By Maxine Dovere