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AIPAC in the Age of Trump

Binyamin Rose, Washington, D.C.

During the Obama years, the atmosphere was tense. With a Republican in the White House, could AIPAC supporters attending the annual policy conference in Washington loosen up?

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

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BIGGER AND BETTER “The conference keeps getting bigger and bigger, and you see all sorts of people who represent every facet of American civil society,” he said. “While there are certainly facets of the right and left who are not here, for the most part they are the fringe elements,” said William Daroff, director of the Washington office of the Jewish Federations of North America (Photos: AFP/ImageBank, Flash90)

W hat a difference a year makes.

Last year, candidate Donald Trump cheered a capacity crowd at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., by starting his own personal countdown toward Barack Obama’s final year in office, leaving AIPAC president Lillian Pinkus feeling compelled to apologize to the White House the next day.

This year, candidate Trump is now President Trump. Lillian Pinkus is still president of AIPAC, and after a year of some of the least civil political discourse in American history, Pinkus kicked off AIPAC’s 2017 Policy Conference with a theme of unity: “Many Voices, One Mission.”

There were clearly many voices among the estimated 18,000 delegates at this year’s convention, including some 3,600 students from more than 630 campuses and delegations from more than 275 synagogues.

Among the attendees was a sizeable Orthodox contingent that grows larger with every passing year. While there has always been a nice crowd for Minchah, this year there was a minyan mill, with crowds of people streaming in and out or Room 103B throughout the day.

And in a first, AIPAC’s itinerary advertised two types of minyanim — Orthodox and egalitarian. To avoid any possibility of Kosel-like clashes, the two services were held on different levels of the sprawling Washington Convention Center.

The prevailing mood was also different this year. Gone was the feeling of impending doom — and tension — that permeated the eight years of the Obama administration. That’s not to say that all AIPAC delegates are deliriously happy with President Trump. On the contrary, many in attendance are still eagerly waiting for Trump to act on his many campaign promises, among them moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, ripping up the Iran deal, and holding the Palestinians to account for their hateful rhetoric and terrorism. In the meantime, at the very least, the warmth is back in the US-Israeli relationship.

“For the first time in many years, perhaps in many decades, there is no daylight between our two governments,” said Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the US, in his address to the audience at Sunday’s opening session. “Peace is no longer based on empty hopes and illusions but a common desire for a safer, prosperous and more peaceful future.”

President Trump, who’s got his hands full governing an unruly majority, did not appear at this year’s convention. Prime Minister Netanyahu sufficed with an address by satellite feed. Trump did dispatch Vice President Mike Pence, who proved to be a crowd-pleaser. He drew his most vigorous applause when he praised Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley.

CAPTION 2 The Trump administration presents a fresh challenge for AIPAC. In his first budget outline, President Trump asked Congress to slash 28%, or a whopping $10.9 billion, from State Department foreign aid programs

“Under President Trump, the United States will no longer allow the United Nations to be used as a forum for invective against Israel, or the West,” Pence said.

Pence added that the president is giving “serious consideration” to moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. We will know how serious by June, when the president will have to decide if he will sign another six-month waiver to block the Congressional action taken back in 1995 that recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and advises moving the embassy there.

In the meantime, both Trump, and AIPAC, have their work cut out for them navigating a political environment in Washington that is treacherous at every turn.

Mishpacha’s team fanned out at the conference, sampling the many panel discussions and speeches, interviewing the delegates, and generally taking measure of the many issues and bilateral considerations that will impact the US-Israeli relationship in the coming year. We learned a lot, and like every year, I’m reminded of how nice it is to spend time with so many Jews under one roof... (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 654)

Binyamin Rose, Washington, D.C.,with reporting from Jacob Kornbluh and Omri Nahmias 

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