WASHINGTON, March 1, 2015 — The Nation’s Capitol saw thousands of people brave ice, cold and sleet to attend the annual American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Conference. As its name says, AIPAC is a public affairs committee and not a political action committee.
AIPAC is officially non-partisan, and it zealously guards its status as the premiere organization for preserving relations between America and Israel.
AIPAC is frequently praised and criticized on both sides of the aisle. The leftist Arab-funded group J-Street has repeatedly accused AIPAC of being a right-wing organization. Conservative Republicans scoff at this description, since they see AIPAC as far too liberal, soft and pliant. Since virtually every politician gets an A rating from AIPAC, that often renders the rating system meaningless.
The biggest conservative criticism of AIPAC is that it often comes across as an impotent organization. Tough talk about sanctions on Iran is dismissed as meaningless blather. Iran does what it wants when it wants because the current president likes and respects the mullahs in Iran more than AIPAC.
AIPAC leaders respond that diplomacy is complicated. Time will tell if Iran can be dealt with effectively in any diplomatic way. Conservatives believe military force is the only solution.
AIPAC insists that it stays non-partisan because it has to work with politicians of all stripes. Democrat National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Republican, are both Jews who have praised and been praised by AIPAC.
One misconception about AIPAC and the annual conference is that Israel is solely an issue for Jews. While Israel is the world’s only Jewish state, it is so much more.
The NAACP has many white supporters. Plenty of heterosexual people stand with gays and lesbians. Conversely, many blacks, gays and other minority groups live their lives without taking any activist role of any kind in their own communities. With Israel, there is also wide divergence.
For many Jews, Israel is the heart and soul of who they are. It guides their political beliefs and tugs at them emotional. For many Christians, Israel also has a deep and meaningful religious significance. Conversely, many Jews have varying degrees of indifference to Israel.
In some cases they care about Israel, but with less passion than they express for social issues such as abortion, gay rights and environmentalism. Others replace Judaism with liberalism entirely. Some self-loathing Jews even have a hostility to Israel that defies logical reasoning.
To theorize about an AIPAC Conference is not the same as being there. The stereotype of the Pro-Israel Jewish community is that of nervous people constantly on edge over fear of being eradicated from Earth. There were plenty of speakers and workshops to discuss Iran and other complex Middle East actors.
There were also lighthearted and fun activities and events for people wanting to show their country as just a normal nation among nations.
One panel was dedicated to the strong relationship between Ottawa, Canada, and Jerusalem. Canada often gets overlooked, but Prime Minister Stephen Harper is very pro-Israel. The Canadian people by and large are very supportive of Israel. Coming to this conference was a way of reminding Americans of how important Canada is to the state of Israel.
Politics matters, but many Israelis just want to be seen as regular people living ordinary lives. One group of entrepreneurs represented an Israeli alcohol company determined to become the official beer of Israel. An Israeli chef gave a presentation on how to make certain spicy delicacies.
Another organization promoted Israelis who play in an American football league in Israel. Israel is known as a technological haven, the Silicon Valley of the Middle East. Several technological entrepreneurs introduced products that did everything from helping save lives to trying on clothing without entering a store.
AIPAC President Robert Cohen declared that the 16,000 delegates represented the largest AIPAC attendance ever. Fortunately or unfortunately depending on how one looks at it, many of the attendees were not Jewish.
One positive development was the very high number of black people attending the conference. In some segments of the Jewish community, a major complaint is that Jews have always defended blacks without getting love in reciprocation. At this conference, blacks did stand with their Jewish brothers and sisters.
Critics can point out that many of the blacks were religious evangelical pastors, and therefore conservative Republicans. This would not be totally fair. Some politically liberal blacks did and do stand with AIPAC. A black leader in Georgia announced that Atlanta would be divesting from any companies that did business with Iran or Sudan.
One negative from the opening day was the reminder that evil exists in America.
About 50 anti-Israel protesters gathered in an area they were not supposed to be in to hurl anti-Semitic bile at Jews trying to peacefully assemble. The small mob was not all Palestinians. One elderly white leftist Jew tried to punch a man simply for trying to enter the building while wearing a Yarmulke.
What they did not count on was that the man wearing the skullcap was Ben Packer, a member of Young Jewish Conservatives. Like many conservatives, YJC people do not conflate diplomacy with surrender.
Packer punched back, and the leftist bully fled to another area. Liberal Jews would do well to heed this lesson.
While the opening Sunday of the AIPAC Conference was relevant, it was also anti-climactic.
With the weather miserable and time in short supply, attendees prepared to get up at the crack of dawn Monday. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the AIPAC conference Monday morning.
Those lucky enough to get a seat will be wide awake by the time he starts speaking.