WASHINGTON (JTA) – Vice President Mike Pence delivered a fierce defense to AIPAC of President Donald Trump as a defender of Israel and the Jewish people.
“He’s a man of action,” Pence said of Trump, closing out the first day Sunday of the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference. “For the first time in a long time America has a president who will stand with our allies and stand up to our enemies.”
The line earned warm applause, and Pence suggested that Trump, whose popularity ratings are unusually low for a new president because of recent legislative and legal failures, was popular among the 18,000 AIPAC activists.
“Thanks to the support of so many in this room President Trump won a historic victory,” he said. “All of you helped elect a president I know will make America great again.” Trump’s campaign slogan earned more applause.
Pence’s speech was an inapposite note at a conference in which AIPAC is endeavoring to restore its reputation as a bastion of bipartisan support for Israel.
Pence also cast Trump as a defender of Jews, saying he was “never prouder” than when Trump condemned last month’s vandalism at a Jewish cemetery near St. Louis. But Trump’s statement, delivered through the White House, came several days after the vandalism and was muted, expressing “disappointment” and “concern.” Pence, in contrast, visited the cemetery and assisted in cleaning it up.
Pence, like other speakers at AIPAC, noted the change in rhetoric at the United Nations when it comes to Israel. Nikki Haley, the new envoy to the body whose name when mentioned at this conference earns robust applause, has been outspoken in defending Israel at the body, and helped bring about the withdrawal of a report by a U.N. affiliate likening Israel to an apartheid state.
The Obama administration also defended Israel in multiple U.N. forums, but the relationship ended on a sour note when as one of its final acts in December it allowed through an anti-settlements resolution.
“The United States will no longer allow the United Nations to use as a forum for invective against Israel,” Pence said.
Pence also said he was looking forward to swearing in as ambassador David Friedman, Trump’s longtime lawyer who was confirmed by a deeply divided Senate, mostly along party lines. Democrats opposed Friedman because of his deep philanthropic investment in the settlement movement and his broadsides against liberal Jews.
On a range of other issues that AIPAC has long sought from successive U.S. presidents, Pence was cautious. Trump, he said, was “giving serious consideration” to moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, retreating from Trump’s campaign promise to do so. The Iran nuclear deal reached by Obama, reviled by Republicans, Israel’s government and AIPAC, was “disastrous,” Pence said, but offered no hint Trump would touch it.
Trump also wants to see Israeli-Palestinian peace, Pence said, “and undoubtedly there will have to be compromises,” an allusion to Trump’s asking Israel to slow down settlement building.