America's UN Ambassador Nikki Haley put in a rock-star performance at Aipac

March 28, 2017 11:49

I arrived in Washington DC for the Aipac Policy Conference last Friday. Switching on my phone after we landed, I received a pleasantly surprising email from a senior official at the Foreign Office. He told me about the UK’s vote against a UN Human Rights Council resolution on Israel and the British warning that the UK would veto future such resolutions if the obsession with Israel did not stop. It was very positive news and very well received in Washington.

Bashing the UN was a major focus of the Aipac Policy Conference in Washington DC. The 18,000 delegates lapped up criticism of the supra-national body. And every mention of America’s new UN Ambassador, Nikki Haley, was greeted with huge cheers.

In fact, Ambassador Haley was the high point of the conference. She was received like a rock star when she walked on stage.

Pro-Israel Americans love her for the tough stand she has already taken towards the United Nations, calling out and putting a stop to the inherent anti-Israel bias in the UN. She talked tough.

She said: “I wear high heels. Not as a fashion statement, but to kick them at the UN. There’s a new sheriff in town.”

If you are looking for who might be the first female President of the US, remember the name of Nikki Haley.

The colour of your lanyard is key to your experience at Aipac, which is colour coded according to how much money you donate. Because I was a panel speaker, my lanyard gave me a privileged seat amongst the larger donors. But even that was not enough to get me springing up to give a standing ovation and a cheer as a succession of senior politicians and speakers fed the crowds the lines they wanted to hear.

Special cheers and leaping to feet were reserved for any politician who bashed the UN, vowed to block Iran’s path to a nuclear weapon or attacked the BDS movement.

Star billing at this first Aipac of the Trump era went to the Vice President, Mike Pence. He spent his speech cheerleading for the President. We even got a “Make America Great Again”. Even when he rowed back from the Trump campaign commitment to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv - now the President is merely giving it “very serious consideration” - he still got a standing ovation.

There was an army of senior politicians from Israel, including Isaac Herzog, Michael Oren, Tzipi Livni and Naftali Bennett. Benjamin Netanyahu appeared via video link and gave a rather subdued address, short on policy and long on slogans.

Tony Blair was a guest on the first morning.  He was rapturously received, and played a blinder. He called Israel a beacon of hope in the region, told the audience he had been to Israel 178 times and loved being there. The audience lapped it up.

I spoke on a panel about BDS in Europe. The Aipac crowd is largely of the view that Europe is aflame with BDS.  I was very pleased to have the platform to describe how we in the UK have a nuanced, strategic and targeted approach to BDS. As a result, we win more than we lose and are, in my analogy, “rolling the boulder back up the hill”. Opposing BDS is one of the main policy planks of Aipac and I think the story we have to tell in the UK gives hope that BDS can be contained.

But my abiding memory will be of 18,000 people going wild for the US Ambassador to the UN. I would never have predicted that. There is, indeed, a new sheriff in town.

Simon Johnson is Chief Executive of the Jewish Leadership Council

March 28, 2017 11:49

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