Area residents at the AIPAC Policy Conference greeted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech Monday night at the Washington Convention Center with heartfelt applause. Many also expressed a sense of pride and appreciation for Netanyahu following his speech before a joint session of Congress on Tuesday.
“I was relieved to hear him talk about Jerusalem remaining intact, safe for all people,” said Dori Frumin Kirshner of Closter. “If peace could be achieved without compromising that, it would be amazing.”
Kirshner, who is executive director of Matan, an organization that promotes Jewish education for children with special needs, is also the wife of Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner, who joined the Rev. Oscar King III, a Baptist minister from Detroit, in delivering the convocation prior to the prime minister’s speech.
Interviewed immediately after the speech, Rabbi Kirshner praised Netanyahu’s oratory and also noted his agreement with the prime minister that no genuine peace can be forced on unwilling parties by outside forces, even a U.S. president.
“The Torah and the Constitution are so similar in what they believe,” Kirshner said. “Netanyahu spoke about it in a beautiful, brilliant, articulate way tonight.” Of the speech’s take on policy, Kirshner said, “It’s unfair of us to tell Israel it has to return [to the pre-1967 borders]. It is up to Israelis and Palestinians to negotiate what the preconditions are, not up to others, not even the president. The only precondition [should be] coming to the table.”
Others attending the conference praised the speech for its realistic assessment.
Rabbi Joshua B. Cohen of Temple Emanuel of North Jersey in Franklin Lakes, reached by phone Tuesday, told this newspaper, “Bibi reminded us [that] at its core Israel is about trying to forge peace, but finding legitimate partners on other side of the table is a challenge.”
After Netanyahu spoke before Congress on Tuesday, AIPAC attendees from New Jersey voiced pride and relief to hear their feelings as supporters of Israel expressed with such eloquence and authority.
“It was really a masterful speech,” said Linda Scherzer of Closter. “He very successfully made the argument about how the challenges Israel faces are same ones the U.S. faces. He expressed our collective sense of outrage over the double standard the world applies to Israel, [the way] the world tries to tie Israel’s hands when it comes to defending itself and responding to unprovoked acts of terror.”
Terry Linefsky of Mahwah said, “He spoke from the heart and told the truth about Israel’s hard situation – a small country surrounded by enemies. He told the story extremely well, what issues Israel faces in the Middle East and how the rest of the world views Israel.”
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach of Englewood, a columnist for this newspaper who attended the conference, also heard Netanyahu’s speech before Congress, where he was seated two seats away from a heckler. Reached by phone Tuesday evening, Boteach said, “The conference was inspiring and moving and showed the deep commitment of U.S. Jewry to Israel and of America to Israel. The repeated standing ovations in Congress for the prime minister were beautiful to watch.”
Boteach noted that, in their speeches to AIPAC, both Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) seemed to repudiate Obama’s statement of last week – later amended – that Israel would have to return to the pre-1967 lines as part of a peace deal. He also said that, during Netanyahu’s speech in front of Congress “the vice president clapped when Netanyahu said the ’67 borders are indefensible.”
Boteach added he believes the most powerful speech of the conference was delivered by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.
“Netanyahu’s speech at the joint session of Congress was very effective at explaining the U.S. and Israel are united by common values,” Boteach said. “What I would have hoped for is an articulation of what those values are – democracy and freedom. Cantor’s speech was the most effective at explaining that the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is not about borders, it’s about values.”