- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 27, 2017

Republicans fortified their growing bond with Israel by launching Thursday the Congressional Israel Victory Caucus, a coalition aimed at promoting widespread recognition of the Jewish state’s right to exist as a predicate to peace.

“We founded this caucus primarily on one single irrefutable principle, and that is first and foremost, Israel has a fundamental right to exist and defend herself. And that is not negotiable,” said Rep. Bill Johnson, Ohio Republican, who chairs the caucus with Rep. Ron DeSantis, Florida Republican.

No Democratic lawmaker spoke at the press conference to unveil the caucus, which comes with President Trump championing Israel after eight years of strained relations under the Obama administration.

Mr. DeSantis is the chairman of the House subcommittee on national security, which oversees U.S. embassies. He cited reports that Mr. Trump is in discussions to visit Israel on May 22, and predicted that the president at that time would announce the relocation of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. (Palestinians have claimed Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.)

Mr. DeSantis, who toured in March possible relocation sites for the U.S. Embassy in Israel, noted that such a trip would coincide with the 50th anniversary of Jerusalem Day, which marks the reunification of the city after the Six-Day War in 1967.

“I think it will send a powerful signal not only about the U.S.-Israel relationship — that we’re back and stronger than ever — but I think that will send a signal to other countries in the rest of the world that America is back, we’re going to stand by our allies, and that we’re not going to let folks cow us into not doing the right thing,” Mr. DeSantis said.

Not one day old, the Congressional Israel Victory Caucus already has come under fire from liberal Jewish groups like J Street and Jewish Voice for Peace, which had urged members of Congress to boycott the launch, as well as pro-Muslim groups like MPower Change.

J Street’s Alan Elsner dubbed it the “defeat Palestinians caucus,” arguing that the group is “devoted to pushing the truly terrifying myth that Israel can end the conflict by using brute force and repression to make Palestinians accept their eternal statelessness.”

He cited the involvement of Daniel Pipes, president of the pro-Israel Middle East Forum, whom the left-wing Southern Poverty Law Center has denounced as an “anti-Muslim extremist.”

Mr. Pipes argued for persuading the Palestinian Authority to accept defeat in order to bring an end to the decades-old peace process, which he called the “war process,” saying it has made relations “worse, not better.”

“The caucus I see as a beginning, a first step toward educating other members, talking to the administration, talking to allies, that there is an alternative to this desolate, fruitless counterproductive peace process, or war process,” said Mr. Pipes. “There is something else, something that will lead Israel, the Palestinians and the rest of us toward conflict resolution.”

In his post, Mr. Elsner urged members of Congress to “stay as far away from such savage and dangerous ideas as possible. The creation of a caucus devoted to promoting them should be condemned, not celebrated.”

Two protesters from Code Pink were escorted from the press conference after one unveiled a “Free Palestine” banner and began shouting messages like, “Israel is an apartheid state founded on racism!”

Those in attendance and in support of the caucus included representatives of the Zionist Organization of American, Emet, Christians United for Israel and Americans for a Safe Israel, according to the Jerusalem Post.

Rep. Keith Rothfus, Pennsylvania Republican, warned that Iranian leaders view Israel as a “one-bomb country,” which he called “something to reflect upon this week in the week of Holocaust remembrance.”

“The caucus’ bedrock principle is understanding that Israel has a right to exist and Israel is going nowhere,” Mr. Rothfus said. “It’s unfortunate Israel’s enemies think that Israel will go away someday, but we have to disabuse them of that notion.”

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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