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AIPAC Takes Center Stage

Binyamin Rose, Washington, D.C.

Whether or not you believe in the effectiveness of a pro-Israel lobby, it was impossible to ignore the sheer magnitude and enthusiasm of 13,000 activists and hundreds of American lawmakers and officials who gathered at AIPAC’s annual policy conference. With President Obama’s upcoming visit to Israel looming in the background at one of the most critical junctures in US-Israel relations, last week’s politically star-studded event proved you don’t even have to be Jewish to love AIPAC.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

It takes ten men to form a minyan, a $100,000 annual donation to earn membership in AIPAC’s exclusive Minyan Club, and 100,000 pro-Israel activists to reach out nationwide to form the biggest and most effective pro-Israel lobby in America.

All of the above were firing on all cylinders at AIPAC’s annual policy conference held last week. There were plenty of minyanim throughout the day, including the impromptu hallway variety in the carpeted corridors of the Washington Convention Center. Members of the Minyan Club, as well as AIPAC’s other exclusive donor groups, took their seats in the main plenary session, in color-coded sections based on their predetermined status. For those among AIPAC’s 13,000 nationwide activists who were not afforded a catbird seat, ten large, color monitors were strategically staggered along a several-hundred-foot-long stage to screen both the speeches and an array of audiovisual presentations of Israel’s economic, military, and technological prowess, as well as historical clips.

One such blast from the past was an interview from the 1950s when famed CBS newsman Edward R. Murrow met with Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion. Murrow introduced Ben-Gurion by saying this was to be an “unrehearsed and unprepared” interview — an anachronism in today’s teleprompter era.

The conference was a well-orchestrated show and a major showing of pro-Israel spirit and clout under one roof. Few paid attention to the several dozen anti-AIPAC demonstrators congregated outside the convention center, spouting clich?s about the Israeli occupation of Palestine or how the pro-Israel lobby has led America into endless wars. Pro-Israeli activists jousted verbally with less than a quorum of Neturei Karta activists who waved pro-Palestinian placards and shouted “shame on you” at AIPAC members who crossed Mount Vernon Square to get to the convention center.

Nevertheless, most people would agree that this year’s policy conference was held against the backdrop of perhaps the most trying and challenging period in the relations between Israel and the United States. President Obama’s upcoming visit to Israel, and the pressure he may bring to bear on Israel, loomed larger than the screens on stage. There are question marks as to whether Israel, and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, as AIPAC is formally known, are on the same page as the American administration at a time when both Israel and AIPAC have been put on the defensive. In addition to its usual array of enemies, including Arab states and their international supporters, Israel may have to live with the impact of America’s budget sequester that might pare between 5-10 percent off of America’s annual military aid to Israel.

AIPAC itself is facing challenges; first from within its own ranks among members who wondered aloud why the lobby did not unleash its formidable power to try and quash the nomination of Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense and by critics of the pro-Israel lobby who are asking why the lobby opposes even a small cut in military aid to Israel at a time when America is financially overextended.


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