Thoughts from the AIPAC Policy Conference: Rabbi Cohen

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I have been at the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington since yesterday morning with a number of members of our congregation’s leadership. The Policy Conference is an annual gathering in Washington to learn about issues important to United States – Israel relations and to work with our governmental leaders to ensure that the best, strongest relationship between the two countries continues. It has, yet again, been an amazingly informative experience with more to come this evening when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses over 10,000 of the attendees.

The timing of this year’s Policy Conference couldn’t be more powerful, especially in light of what transpired last week with Pres. Obama’s address regarding the Israeli-Palestinian issue. As I remarked during services last Friday evening, I do not believe that the timing of the President’s speech was the wisest of moves and I am quite concerned with the way in which it has been heard and responded to, not only in America, but throughout the world. While discussion of 1967 borders is not anything new, the President’s statement, coming only days after Syrians disregarded Israeli sovereignty and crossed over the border from Syria into Israel, is problematic in and of itself. The President’s address here at AIPAC on Sunday morning attempted to clarify some of his positions. There is, as one might expect, mixed reaction from attendees.

I wanted to share with all of you a few things that have been most pressing so far; but before doing so, I wanted to clarify just who AIPAC is.

The mission of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is often misunderstood. It is not a PAC. It is not a right-wing hawkish organization. AIPAC has one clear mission and it is a mission I support. AIPAC is committed to the relationship between America and Israel, and works to educate our policymakers about the importance Israel has to the United States from a strategic perspective. AIPAC is not a partisan group. It works with each administration, be they Democrat or Republican and each politician, whether they are on the left or on the right or anywhere in between. AIPAC works with both sides of the aisle and does its best to educate the members of Congress, especially new members of the House or Senate. Similarly, they work with any and all Israeli leaders. Currently they are working closely with the administration of Prime Minister Netanyahu but have worked with each and every prime minister and cabinet, regardless of where they fall on the political spectrum. Their goal is to advise, educate, advocate for policies that further the security of both nations and help build the strongest relationship possible between Israel and America. That’s why I’m here and that’s why Past President Jack Fersko and his wife Helene, incoming President Jay Rice, and temple leader Phil Hoch are all here this week.

The main thing I want to share with all of you, beyond explaining who AIPAC is, is the fact that time and again it has been pointed out to all of us that while there is a great deal for us to discuss with regard to Pres. Obama’s speech from last week, there are far more pressing issues on the Hill that need to be addressed. These fall into three main categories.

Number 1 Foreign aid.

Tomorrow attendees will be headed to Capitol Hill to meet with Senators and House members to support $3.075 billion in security assistance for Israel and to support the US Foreign Aid Program in its entirety. Now more than ever, the aid the United States gives to Israel so that the Jewish state can secure its borders and live safely is important. This is true not only for the Israeli population, not only for the Jewish people, but for American policy in the middle east as well. A strong, safe and secure Israel is good for America.

Number 2: Stopping Iran’s Nuclear Aspirations

Attendees will meet with our representatives urging them to pass the co-sponsored Iran Threat Reduction Act. This bill was introduced by Foreign Affairs Committee chairwoman Eliana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fl) and ranking member Howard Berman (D-Ca). It is a bi-partisan bill that will impose tough new sanctions on Iran. This bill is particularly important because while current sanctions against Iran exist, they are not being imposed. Imposing the current sanctions fully and taking the additional steps outlined in this bill will help prevent Iran from getting the bomb and destabilizing the entire region.

Number 3: Rejecting Hamas and Getting Negotiations Going Again.

Attendees will meet with Senators and House Members and urge them to co-sponsor House Resolution 268 and Senate Resolution 185. These measures call on the administration to oppose a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood and reject any solution that includes a Hamas that has not disavowed the destruction of Jewish state.

These three areas are of paramount importance to United States security, the security of Israel and, I believe, to us as Jews. They are bipartisan positions that are receiving support from across the political spectrum. There is good reason for that – this is good policy for the United States.

It is because of such positions and the impact that we can have that I am personally involved with AIPAC and I am committed to attending the Policy Conference each and every year. It is also the reason some of TSTI’s top leaders are here as well. I hope that many of you will join with us next year to Washington.

More information, thoughts and reflections to come.

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