Vice President Mike Pence emphasized his support for Israel at an Israeli-American national conference in Hollywood and pledged to combat all forms of anti-Semitism and hatred.
In a half-hour speech to hundreds of people at the Diplomat Beach Resort on Friday, Pence said defending Israel and Jewish people is not a partisan issue. He also touted recent foreign policy moves by President Donald Trump like recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital and withdrawing the U.S. from the Iran nuclear agreement.
"We stand with Israel because her cause is our cause, her values are our values," he said. "The United States of America will never compromise the safety and security of the Jewish state of Israel."
Pence joined House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer as the headline speakers at the four-day Israeli-American Council National Conference, which aims to bring together Israeli-Americans and drew over 3,000 people. Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Republican Governor-elect Ron DeSantis also spoke at the event.
DeSantis said he wants Florida to be the most pro-Israel state in the U.S. He suggested strengthening economic ties with the country and funding school security at Jewish day schools to prevent acts of "anti-Semitism."
Combatting such hatred was also a major focus of Pence's speech. He noted the shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue in October that left 11 people dead and is considered the deadliest attack on Jews in U.S. history. The Anti-Defamation League has also reported that anti-Semitic acts spiked nearly 60 percent from 2016 to 2017, the greatest single-year increase the organization has ever recorded.
Critics have blamed Trump for stoking anti-Semitic extremists, noting that he hesitated to condemn neo-Nazis at a Charlottesville, Va. rally last year. But Pence unequivocally denounced all hatred on Tuesday.
"There is no place in America for anti-Semitism and violence and we will confront and condemn it everywhere it rears its ugly head," he said to a roaring applause.
During a closing discussion on Sunday, Pelosi and Schumer addressed growing criticism of Israel for its treatment of Palestinians. The Boycott, Divest and Sanction Movement for example seeks to end international support for Israel for what it calls the country's "oppression of Palestinians."
Schumer said many Israel critics are young people who do not understand the threats the country has faced throughout its history. Educating them about past and present Israeli struggles is critical, he said.
"The young people have seen Israel as strong because through their lifetimes that's what it is," Schumer said. "We have to show them Israel's existence is still precarious."
The discussion briefly became more contentious when Pelosi said she favors a two-state solution to settle contentious Israeli-Palestinian relations. Some audience members clapped in response while others appeared to boo and say "no." Pelosi quickly acknowledged that the idea is controversial but said people should just focus on the "solution" aspect.
Several of Pence's statements were also disputed, though they did not elicit any negative reaction. The vice president pledged to halt aid to the Palestinian Authority if it’s tied to any attacks against Israel. He also repeatedly mentioned Trump's recognition of the fiercely contested city of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the decision to withdrawal the U.S. from the Iran nuclear agreement.
Such pro-Israel moves by the administration resonated with attendees at the conference.
"[Pence] reminded people that a lot of people say things and don’t always make them happen," said Lyon Roth, who lives in Miami. "And here there was a pretty high correlation between some of the promises made by the administration and execution along the way."
Sloan Rachmuth, who lives in Chapel Hill, N.C., added that Pence seems to understand the danger of anti-Semitic crime. Acts of hatred against Jews is a major concern for Rachmuth, though she added the conference helped address her worries.
"What I like most is the idea that this is a nonpartisan issue and that more and more people are saying, 'it's not about right and left. It’s about hate,'" she said.