The American Israel Public Affairs Committee is often described as one of the most powerful and effective lobbying groups in Washington. Just about any way you measure success — Congressional voting results, organizational skills, funding, effective professionals and legions of passionate lay leaders — AIPAC qualifies. And supporters of Israel, and of strong ties between Washington and Jerusalem, should be grateful for that achievement.
The qualities that make the official pro-Israel lobby so effective were on display this week at the group’s annual policy conference in Washington, which officials said drew more than 10,000 delegates, the largest ever, at a time of deep anxiety about an increasingly embattled Israel.
The fact that 70 senators and 270 members of Congress attended the annual banquet and that leading Democrats and Republicans, at odds on so many issues, spoke in one voice about the shared values and vital strategic alliances between the U.S. and Israel, should not be taken for granted.
More than 1,500 students attended from over 400 campuses, including 215 student government presidents, a hopeful sign for the future. (Twenty-five high school students from The Jewish Week’s Write On For Israel advocacy program were there as well.)
Much of the attention this year was on President Barack Obama’s address Sunday morning as he sought to clarify his major State Department speech of the previous Thursday and assuage concerns about the starting point for Israel-Palestinian negotiations. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu revived the controversy in his Monday night address, asserting, “Israel cannot return to indefensible borders.”
For all the brouhaha over what the president did or didn’t say, meant or didn’t mean, the fact is that there is little chance for serious negotiations about a comprehensive peace anytime soon, with the parties so far apart, and it seems clear the administration is moving on to other pressing foreign policy concerns.
The top issues on the conference agenda were the Iran nuclear threat, foreign aid to Israel at a time of regional volatility, and assessing America’s relationship with the Palestinians as they seek to unilaterally declare a state at the United Nations in September.
What experts agreed on is that this is one of the most fluid and volatile periods in memory for the region, and while there is room for hope that the Arab Spring will lead to more open governments in the future, the short-term predictions are for a bumpy ride, at best.
At such a stressful time, it is reassuring to know that AIPAC is working effectively in lobbying not for a particular Mideast strategy but for maintaining and strengthening the U.S.-Israel relationship — a relationship whose importance is more vital and needed than ever.