Benny Gantz, main rival to Netanyahu in elections, to speak at AIPAC conference

Former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz speaks at the annual World Zionist Conference in Jerusalem on Nov. 2, 2017. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Marcy Oster

(JTA) — Benny Gantz, whose new center-left political party is leading Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud in the polls ahead of national elections next month in Israel, will speak at the annual AIPAC policy conference.

Gantz, a former chief of staff of the Israeli military who heads the Blue and White alliance, will address the main session plenary on March 25. The party said Gantz will “use his speech to emphasize that after the election he will work to rebuild the relationship with American Jewry and ensure that Israel will once again enjoy the support of its friends across the spectrum in the United States.”

AIPAC announced in late February that Netanyahu would appear at the conference in person this year, as opposed to via satellite, which has often been the case during his tenure in office. Netanyahu is scheduled to speak the day after Gantz.

The conference comes two weeks before the April 9 elections, in which Netanyahu is facing a serious challenge from Gantz, Yair Lapid and Moshe Yaalon, whose parties make up Blue and White.

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AIPAC last month slammed a move by Netanyahu to encourage the Kahanist Jewish Power party, or Otzma Yehudit, to form an alliance with the Jewish Home party in order to shore up votes for his right-wing bloc.

Meanwhile, Oded Revivi of the West Bank settlers Yesha Council also will appear on a panel discussing the legacy of the 1967 war — the first time a senior settlement leader has been invited to the conference.

Revivi told The Times of Israel that he has addressed AIPAC delegations that visit Israel over the last two years as his organization has worked to build a relationship with AIPAC.

AIPAC spokesman Marshall Wittmann told The Times of Israel that Revivi’s appearance does not indicate a shift in the organization’s position in support of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

House Majority Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., also confirmed their participation in the conference, as did Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.