Reporting from Washington -- Delegates of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee rewarded President Obama with standing ovations for his toughest lines on Iran, but the overall reception of the speech, which also stressed the importance of peaceful solutions in the Middle East, was mixed.
The crowd got to its feet when the president emphasized Israel’s right to make its own foreign policy decisions. It came out of its seats again moments later when he stressed that the American policy on Iran’s nuclear ambitions was to prevent the country from getting a bomb, not containing it once it was nuclear armed.
But if the conference delegates wanted strong words, the end of the speech, which took a more moderate tone, left some deflated. As they left the main hall at the Washington Convention Center, delegates expressed a more muted view of the address, questioning whether the president’s rhetoric on Iran was tough enough.
“I don’t think it’s his business if Israel attacks Iran,” said Shai Nussbaum, a delegate from New York. “Did America tell Israel when they started the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq? No.”
Others, though, recognized the need for caution and mirrored Obama’s call to be judged on his actions. “There absolutely needs to be a military option on the table, but, of course, how you talk about war has implications too,” said Aryeh Goldberg, from Toronto.
Despite finding fault with parts of the speech, the overall response from delegates seemed to be satisfaction, if not enthusiasm. “It’s what people who want a close friendship between Israel and the U.S. want to hear,” said Harrell Pailet, an attorney from Dallas. “Israel’s in a tough neighborhood and needs friendship.”
The official line from AIPAC echoed that view. “We welcome the president’s remarks and his strong resolve to work with Israel to solve the Iranian challenge,” said Patrick Dorton, an AIPAC spokesman.