New Jerseyans attending the 2012 AIPAC Policy Conference said they sensed improved relations between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“What I sensed was very different from last year,” said Melanie Gorelick, director of the Community Relations Committee of United Jewish Communities of MetroWest and the Jewish Federation of Central NJ. “There seems to be a lot less tension between them, and people responded very positively to Obama’s speech.”
Gorelick spoke to NJ Jewish News March 6 in a cell phone interview from the convention floor, where hundreds of New Jersey residents were among the 12,000 delegates taking part in the March 4-6 conference.
The president “was warm, there was a strong connection to him, and he reiterated the strong actions and commitment by his administration to Israel,” she said. “He took a strong stance against Iran, with strong diplomacy and strong economic pressure, but said, ‘Nothing is off the table.’”
Jonathan Liss of West Orange was pleased at the apparent harmony between the two leaders as well as the delegates to the AIPAC conference.
“Certainly that is the perception that came across in terms of their language,” said Liss, chair of UJC MetroWest’s Young Leadership Department. “What is most amazing is the unity that crossed the entire political spectrum.”
“Obama gave an impassioned presentation, talking about not what he says but what he does,” said David Dranikoff of Livingston, chair of the CRC’s Israel and World Affairs Committee.
“He was the first president to stand up at the United Nations and give such an impassioned speech about Israel and how close America is with Israel. We should give him credit where credit is due,” Dranikoff added. “He said emphatically that the military option is on the table. The president was powerful. He wasn’t equivocating.”
Obama addressed the conference on Sunday, while Netanyahu spoke the next day.
“Both Obama and Netanyahu were speaking the correct rhetoric,” said UJC MetroWest president Lori Klinghoffer. “They are both politicians and their message was clear: The U.S. and Israel stand together. We are strategic allies and this is not just an Israel issue. This is a world security issue.”
“The group was very warm in receiving Netanyahu, and they were fairly warm in receiving Obama,” Klinghoffer added. “Obama gave a laundry list of what the U.S. has done in support of Israel, and that is an accurate list. It is an election year, but each of the candidates, as well as the incumbent, stressed the importance of the alliance between Israel and the United States and the need for a strong response to Iran’s developing a nuclear weapon.”
To Steve Newmark of Florham Park, chair of the CRC’s government relations committee, “Netanyahu was fabulous, a great cheerleader who had the audience out of their chairs. I don’t see any differences between him and Obama.”
On Tuesday, Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum addressed AIPAC in person, while Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich spoke via satellite.
“Everybody seems to be speaking in a unified voice,” said Newmark. “Obviously, Romney, Santorum, and Gingrich are taking a more hawkish viewpoint than Obama, but everybody seems to be in pretty much agreement.”
Others were disturbed by some subtle partisan tones in the rhetoric.
“I saw some Republicans saying there is discord, but from the president to Netanyahu, everyone said nobody will accept containment and all options — including military options — are on the table,” said Rabbi Daniel Grossman of Adath Israel Congregation in Lawrenceville. “I think the difference is between the Republicans, who are saying, ‘Let’s do it now,’ and the president, who is saying, ‘Let’s wait and see where it goes.’ But I think everyone is on the same page and the Israelis know it is there.”