WASHINGTON — Sen. Robert Menendez received a hero’s welcome at AIPAC, where the New Jersey Democrat thanked the lobby for its support during his corruption trial.
Menendez, who returned recently to the top Democratic spot on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee after his trial ended in a mistrial, was among the few speakers to the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference to receive a standing ovation just for walking on the stage.
“Sometimes God puts a Goliath in your path until you find the David within you, and I found the David within me,” Menendez said. “Many of you today were part of that slingshot.”
Menendez, a leading pro-Israel Democrat, fundraised in the pro-Israel community during his trial. In 2015, federal prosecutors charged Menendez with accepting favors from a political donor. The Justice Department dropped the charges in January following the mistrial late last year.
An unsubstantiated narrative persists among some in the pro-Israel community that the Obama administration initiated the prosecution because Menendez was among a handful of Senate Democrats who opposed the Iran nuclear deal of the same year. No evidence has emerged to support the thesis.
“When my children ask me if I knew what was going to happen, would I have taken those same stands, and my answer is a resolute yes,” Menendez said to one of multiple standing ovations.
“Most of you know that I have resumed my role as the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee,” he said. “I do not waver in my beliefs, even when others do not stand up for Israel.”
Menendez encouraged the Trump administration to supplement the Iran deal, which traded sanctions relief for a rollback in Iran’s nuclear program, by coordinating with Europe to target Iran’s missile program and Iranian military adventurism.
He also targeted the Trump administration for giving what he depicted as a free hand to Russia in Syria.
“These agreements with Russia are dangerous,” he said. “In Syria, here at home or around the world, Russia is not a partner for stability and peace. Russia has made its alliances clear.
Israel’s government is concerned that Russia defers too much to Iran, its de facto ally in Syria’s civil war. Israeli officials have called for a more robust U.S. role in resolving the Syrian civil war.