The AIPAC Policy Conference opened in Washington on March 24, 2019, and the critical analyses and even editorial autopsies are describing the organization’s diminished influence, claiming that it parallels the drop in Israel’s popularity among Americans.
The press’ adoration of three far-Left Democratic politicians who the media sees as the leaders and prophets of a new “progressive” wave of Democratic Party policy – Representatives Omar (MN), Tlaib (MI), and Ocasio-Cortez (NY) – often accompany the AIPAC reports. The three have expressed support for the Boycott, Divestment, Sanction (BDS) movement and strong opposition to AIPAC, with Omar even claiming that Congress’ support for Israel was because of “Benjamins” – hundred dollar bills. She charged that pro-Israel activists and members of Congress had “allegiance to a foreign country.” Omar’s anti-Semitic canards about the Jews were also gross insults of American elected officials.
The Leftist representatives’ campaign runs in tandem with the demonstrations and boycott plan of radical anti-Israel organizations like Jewish Voice for Peace, If Not Now, Move On, and even the “pro-Israel” J Street. Hundreds of protestors will picket outside of the Washington Convention Center where the AIPAC meeting is taking place.
The international and American media expect fireworks during the AIPAC Conference:
“2020 Democrats are dropping like flies from pro-Israel AIPAC conference” – VICE News1
“AIPAC convenes annual conference in Washington amid division” – AlJazeera2
“U.S. pro-Israel lobby AIPAC sees partisan cracks as Democratic presidential candidates stay away” – Japan Times3
“As AIPAC Curtain Rises, Some Lawmakers Point Finger at Democrat Absentees” – Jerusalem Post4
“Trump slams 2020 Democrats for skipping AIPAC: ‘They’re totally anti-Israel’” – ABC News5
“Omar Shares Praise for Democrats Boycotting AIPAC” – Washington Free Beacon6
Several analysts believe that AIPAC’s Conference will fall off the rails because of President Trump’s strong support for Israel and its current prime minister. Some Americans who oppose Trump seem to share their animosity toward any person or country the president deigns to support. Some progressive American Jews also object to the internal Israeli political campaigns that lead to divisive declarations that insult and hurt American Jewry.
Some pundits believe that President Trump has undermined AIPAC’s holy grail of bipartisan support in Congress for Israel by declaring last week, “I don’t know what’s happened to them [Democrats], but they are totally anti-Israel; frankly, I think they’re anti-Jewish.”
Been There, Done That
Here is what may be the prediction of the year: The AIPAC Policy Conference will close on Tuesday with wall-to-wall expressions of support for Israel by the 18,000 delegates.
Why? Because the American public supports Israel, its values, democracy, pride, bravery, and sacrifices. Members of Congress do, too – Democrats and Republicans – and it is not because of the “Benjamins.” In many cases, the support for a Jewish homeland flows from the Bible, as it has since the days of the New England Puritans.
The Policy Conference will showcase Americans of color who support the Jewish state, Catholic and Protestant clergy who back Israel along with their local rabbis, wounded American veterans who are benefiting from Israeli innovations and are sharing life experiences with Israeli veterans. Israeli politicians attending will prove the vitality of Israel’s democracy, with Lt.-Gen. (ret.) Benny Gantz, the top contender for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s post in the April 9 Israeli elections, speaking on Monday, followed by Netanyahu on Tuesday.
Democratic and Republican leaders of Congress will repeatedly emphasize their bipartisan support. There will not be a Democratic boycott of AIPAC since most Democrats will be meeting their AIPAC constituents in their offices, if not at AIPAC receptions. It is what elected officials do if they want to be re-elected.
What of the minyan of Democratic presidential candidates who are not speaking at AIPAC’s plenum? Are they boycotting or are they being boycotted? They were not invited to speak because there are too many, and who should be cut? The winner of the Democratic Party nomination in 2020 will be a keynote speaker at the AIPAC meeting in Spring 2020. Of that, you can be sure.
Will there be catcalls and demonstrations inside the AIPAC meetings? Probably, especially with some 4,000 enthusiastic students in attendance. Nothing new here – AIPAC feared demonstrations already in the 1970s from the New Left and Breira (the “If Not Now” then) students. At the May 2005 Policy Conference, AIPAC ushers were on the watch for protestors against Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his planned disengagement from Gaza. Nothing happened at any of the conferences.
[AIPAC is strictly nonpartisan when it comes to Israeli elections. It invites Israel’s leaders to speak but takes no sides in Israel’s political contests.]
What Great American Leaders Say, and Why AIPAC Will Be Stronger
A 2007 book called The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy was a rant by Professors Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer. It led to a response by another professor who also happened to be a former Secretary of State named George P. Shultz. In a (highly recommended) article in U.S. News, he wrote:7
The United States supports Israel not because of favoritism based on political pressure or influence but because the American people, and their leaders, say that supporting Israel is politically sound and morally just….So, on every level, those who blame Israel and its Jewish supporters for U.S. policies they do not support are wrong. They are wrong because, to begin with, support for Israel is in our best interests. They are also wrong because Israel and its supporters have the right to try to influence U.S. policy. And they are wrong because the U.S. government is responsible for the policies it adopts, not any other state or any of the myriad lobbies and groups that battle daily—sometimes with lies—to win America’s support.
AIPAC’s 1976 Policy Conference took place during the acrimonious Ford-Kissinger “Reassessment of the Washington-Israel relationship.” Senator Hubert Humphrey (D-MN) told some 450 AIPAC conference attendees:8
Columnists, editorial writers have warned us about ethnic lobbies. We’ve heard careless, and I think, reckless things being said about the powerful Jewish lobby. As if somehow or another, it was against the law in this country to speak up for what you believe in.
It is good for the basic democratic process that people who have convictions about what American public policy should be take time to get their fellow Americans and their public officials to understand what they believe and to urge their support. That’s what we mean by free speech in this country. I say it will be a sad day for this country when its citizens stop using the precious guarantees in the First Amendment to petition their government.
So I say, there is nothing new about lobbying on behalf of causes in foreign places. It’s as American as a hot dog or apple pie, spaghetti, gefilte fish, or Polish sausage.
It is difficult for some pro-Palestinians, some former American diplomats, and some jaundiced journalists to understand AIPAC’s attraction, efficiency, and “power.” It shouldn’t be. It’s nothing sinister or alien.
AIPAC reflects the best of the United States and its people – its political system, its optimism, its spirit, and its selfless mission. That’s AIPAC’s power.
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