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Bibi and Cheney Are So Last Year

The story at last year’s Aipac conference was the thunderous applause for two hardliners, Vice President Cheney and former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Cheney’s approval rating had dipped into the teens, but at Aipac he was a star: His speech drew more than 40 rounds of applause, including eight standing ovations, as he warned of the dangers posed by Hamas and Iran. The thrust of Cheney’s speech this year that anything short of the Bush administration’s definition of victory would threaten America’s ability to confront Iran. The response was lukewarm.

At least they let him speak to the big room.

Read on for Nathan Guttman’s report on Netanyahu’s scramble for a platform:

“Israeli opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu had a difficult time getting himself seen and heard at the Aipac conference. Netanyahu — leader of the Likud Party and a chief critic of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert — was scheduled only for an appearance in a closed-door forum with the lobby’s donors.

”Netanyahu, who focused his talk on the need to divest from companies doing business with Iran, asked to open the session to the press and was initially refused. Only after repeated requests was he allowed to let in members of the Israeli media, as his “personal guests.

“The opposition leader also had a tough time arranging a room for a press conference. According to Israeli and American sources, Aipac refused to allow him to hold the media session in one of the rooms of the convention center. Due to security concerns, he was also not able to hold his press conference at an adjacent coffee shop. The former prime minister turned to a major Jewish group in Washington and asked to use its offices for the meeting. He was turned down once again.

“Finally, Netanyahu’s office managed to secure a room for the press conference at the law firm of Bingham McCutchen in downtown Washington.

“Another Israeli politician who did not make it to center stage at the conference was the Labor Party’s leader, Defense Minister Amir Peretz, who is known to be on bad terms with Olmert. Peretz is not fluent in English and was scheduled to speak in a small closed meeting with Aipac leaders and major donors. Peretz’s only exposure to the larger Aipac crowd was at the gala dinner, when Olmert acknowledged him at the end of his satellite speech, referring to him as “my friend Amir Peretz.”

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