Report from AIPAC conference: “Bombshell” interview by Obama may create new strains in US-Israel relationship. Kerry & McCain set to address 14,000 activists today.

Israeli opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Labor Party) shared his vision of the future of Israel on Day 1 of the AIPAC Policy Conference.

Israeli opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Labor Party) shared his vision of the future of Israel on Day 1 of the AIPAC Policy Conference.

UPDATED: (Washington, D.C.) — The big question today: Just how far is President Obama planning to go to pressure Israel to make painfully deep concessions in the Mideast peace process, even as he appears to ease up pressure on Iran to give up its bid for The Bomb?

Secretary of State John Kerry and Sen. John McCain are scheduled to be the main keynote speakers on Day Two of the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, amidst a massive March snowstorm that has shut down the federal government, all area schools and many businesses. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu will close the conference on Tuesday morning.

The President declined an invitation to speak at the largest event in AIPAC history, attended by more than 14,000 pro-Israel activists, mostly Jewish, but including hundreds of evangelical Christians.

Strained relations between the Netanyahu government and the Obama administration could become even more strained as the result of the interview the President gave to Jeffrey Goldberg of Bloomberg that was published on Sunday.

“Until he read the breaking news of President Obama’s earth-shattering interview with Bloomberg’s Jeffrey Goldberg on Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu might have anticipated that Monday’s meeting was going to be one of his less confrontational and unpleasant sessions of frank, allied diplomacy with his good friend Barack,” noted David Horovitz, editor of the Times of Israel. “But then came that bombshell Bloomberg battering. The timing could not have been any more deliberate — an assault on the prime minister’s policies delivered precisely as Netanyahu was flying in to meet with him, and on the first day, too, of the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC’s annual tour de force conference across town. At the very least, that might be considered bad manners, poor diplomatic protocol, a resounding preemptive slap in the face: I’ve just told the world you’re leading your country to wrack and ruin, Mr. Prime Minister. Now, what was it you wanted to talk to me about?”

I’ll be live Tweeting from the conference, which is set to begin at 9:30am eastern. You can follow by going to: @JoelCRosenberg.

Stopping Iran from building nuclear weapons and trying to understand what the Putin invasion of southern Ukraine — and President Obama’s hesitant response — means for the U.S.-Israel relationship were the dominant themes on Day One of the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, D.C. Main speakers included U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, former Israeli Shin Bet director Avi Dichter, former Senator Joe Lieberman (D-CT), and Israeli opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Labor Party), who is waiting in the wings, hoping to emerge as Prime Minister should the Netanyahu government stumble.

There were excellent break out sessions, as well. The two I attended focused on the vital role the Kingdom of Jordan plays in the region, and the growing strains on the Kingdom, and the future of Russian policy towards in the Middle East, including what the crisis in Ukraine tells us about the leadership styles and character of Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama and rapidly shifting international perceptions of Russia and the U.S. i

It’s important to note that AIPAC has been working on reaching out to Christian pastors and grassroots leaders in recent years. While they have a long way to go to tap the enormous depth and breadth of Christian support for Israel, and mobilize that support on behalf of their lobbying efforts, they are moving in the right direction. I attended a “Christian Leaders Outreach Dinner” five or six years ago that AIPAC sponsored, and I can report that this year’s dinner was much better attended and revealed a growing warmth between AIPAC’s Jewish leadership and the Christian activists, evidence of the fruit being born by the Christian outreach team.

Here are the Tweets I sent out Saturday and Sunday tracking the latest developments at the conference, and in the crisis in Ukraine:

Saturday Night

  • Great 2b @ Christian Outreach Dinner tonight @Aipac w/friends Will & Penny Nance & other pro-Israel Christian leaders
  • John Kerry condemns what he calls “the Russian Federation’s invasion and occupation of Ukrainian territory.” (CNN)
  • Crimea falls to Putin without a shot fired; will #Ukraine suffer same fate? (Haaretz)
  • Stephen Harper: We join our allies in condemning in the strongest terms Pres. Putin’s military intervention in Ukraine
  • Netanyahu: I will be flying tomorrow to the United States, to represent the citizens of Israel. Wishing you all a wonderful week
  • The Czar Strikes Back? Russian Armor in Crimea (National Review)

Sunday — before conference began

  • Breaking: Ukrainian prime minister: ‘We are on the brink of disaster’  (WSJ)
  • Interim Ukrainian Prime Minister says actions by Russian forces in Crimea “a declaration of war.” (CNN)
  • Fmr Brit Ambassador to Moscow says UK & US signed 1994 agreement to defend Ukraine in case of attack (UK Daily Mail)
  • Context: Poll last Nov found more Ukrainians favor EU pact (45%) than competing customs deal offered by Russia (15%).
  • Context: in Dec, Ukrainian support for EU deal was 37% vs. 33% for customs deal w/Russia. Country was deeply divided
  • Context: 75% of Ukrainians in Western part wanted to join EU, but East wanted to join deal w/Russia. Split coming?
  • Ukraine has some 200,000 Jews & long history of anti-Semitism. Fears growing as synagogue firebombed. Pray for safety

Sunday — conference begins — morning session

  • Israeli Arab Christian who runs hospital in Galilee sharing at @AIPAC about how his team cars for Syrian casualties of civil war.
  • Over 14,000 here for opening session of Policy Conference, including hundreds of evangelical Christians. Largest conf in @AIPAC history
  • Fmr. Sen. Joe Lieberman, Shin Bet Director Avi Dichter & Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) discussing Iran threat @ #aipac2014
  • Fmr Shin Bet Director Avi Dichter tells @Aipac if diplomacy doesn’t work Israel will have to “kill” Iran nuke program
  • @JoeLieberman tells @AIPAC there used to be 2 stable democracies in Mideast: Israel & Turkey. Now just Israel. Says Turkey going wrong way.
  • Sen @ChrisCoons, a Democrat, expresses concern that US credibility is in doubt in Mideast for declaring red line in Syria but doing nothing.
  • Sen. @ChrisCoons tells @AIPAC that Putin is moving aggressively in south Ukraine in part due to US showing weakness & indecision in Syria.
  • @avidichter warns @AIPAC participants that Israel must control Jordan Valley in case Jordan is one day controlled by Iran. (God forbid.)
  • @AIPAC leader Howard Kohr: we want negotiations w/Iran to work. But success is full dismantlement of capacity to enrich uranium & build Bomb
  • Only way to force Iran to give up path to Bomb is pressure–sanctions, isolation & credible threat of force–says @aipac leader Howard Kohr.
  • Pressure forced Iran to the negotiating table. Now is the time to ratchet up pressure on Iran, not ease up, says @AIPAC leader Howard Kohr.
  • In final morning talk, Howard Kohr asks 14,000 @aipac delegates to take msg of “more pressure” on Iran to 535 Members of Congress this week.
  • Some say “we’ll ramp pressure on Iran if talks fail,” but that will be too late says @AIPAC leader Howard Kohr. Congress must weigh in now.
  • Key to effectiveness on Israel & Iran issues is bipartisan support, say leaders here @AIPAC Conference. Must work w/leaders of both parties.
  • Embarking for US, Netanyahu says Israel will reject pressures (Times of Israel)
  • Kerry Warns Russia of Possible Eviction From G-8 (NYT)

Sunday — afternoon break out sessions

  • Russia expert @Dr_Ariel_Cohen is speaking @AIPAC session. Says all eyes on how NATO responds to aggression against Ukraine.
  • @Dr_Ariel_Cohen says US, UK & Russia persuaded Ukraine to give up nuclear weapons in ’94 on basis that we would protect them from aggression
  • @Dr_Ariel_Cohen tells @aipac session Russian move on southern Ukraine most dangerous moment in Europe since collapse of USSR & Yugoslav war.
  • We don’t want war w/Russia. They have nukes. So does US, UK & France. But @Dr_Ariel_Cohen says Russia must pay price or they will take more.
  • @Dr_Ariel_Cohen: A US foreign policy that twists friends’ arms & appease enemies is a disaster. Not how you build a safe world. @AIPAC
  • @Dr_Ariel_Cohen says he doesn’t support Ukraine joining NATO @ this stage. Too provocative. Goal is draw clear line but step back from brink
  • Russian experts Dr. Mark Levin & @Dr_Ariel_Cohen say Russia is exploiting vacuum in Mideast that US creating by our withdrawals, vacillating
  • Overlooked during Sochi Games: Egyptian leader Gen. Al-Sisi went to Moscow to sign deals to buy Russian weapons for 1st time since 1973.
  • Russia expert Dr. Mark Levin (not radio host) just spoke to chief Rabbi in Ukraine. Says no attacks against Jews — yet. But real concern.
  • Excellent panel just finished @Aipac w/Russia experts Dr. Mark Levin & Dr. Ariel Cohen on Putin’s Mideast goals. SRO

Sunday — afternoon final main session

  • Treasury Secretary Jack Lew is now speaking to the @Aipac Policy Conference. Urging bipartisan support for Israel
  • Israeli opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Labor) is speaking @Aipac conference on his vision for the future of Israel.
  • US sanctions enforcer defends Iran interim deal to AIPAC (Jerusalem Post)
  • Blackpastor closed @Aipac w/passionate love4God & Israel & sang w/his choir. Wow, 14,000 Jews on their feet cheering
  • Pleased to welcome PM and Mrs. Netanyahu to the United Stares! (Dan Shapiro, US Amb to Israel)