On May 22-24, my wife Marsha and I spent three incredibly important days at the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, DC.
AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, is the organization that comes to mind when anyone refers to "the Israel lobby." Its primary mission is to preserve and strengthen one of the most important pillars of American foreign policy, the critical strategic relationship binding America and Israel together.
In the course of that program, which featured monthly meetings over a period of two years, we learned about most of the key alphabet soup of national and international Jewish organizations. One program featured a speaker from AIPAC; we naturally, along with just about everyone else, joined up and began receiving Near East Report, its then weekly report on American Middle East Policy.
The Near East Report, like many other publications, is now published primarily online and may be read at www.aipac.org/NearEastReport. If you're trying to minimize your reading, it's one of two must-read publications, the other being the Daily Alert put out for the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, which may be obtained by email or read at www.dailyalert.org.
Although we were members of AIPAC, we never went to its Annual Policy Conference until 2005, when it conveniently took place during spring break. Once we went, we kept going; we haven't missed a Policy Conference since.
The 2005 Policy Conference was by far the largest ever held up until that time, with over 5,000 people attending and hearing then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon talk about the upcoming withdrawal from Gaza. One revelation for me was that Sharon had a wonderful sense of humor.
Everyone thought 5,000 was a big Policy Conference, but it's doubled in size in the short time we've been attending: there were more than 10,000 people at the Conference this May!
This year's highlights included:
- President Barack Obama
- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
- A gala banquet Monday night with more than two-thirds of Congress
- For those of us from Connecticut's 4th and 5th districts, a midnight tour of the Capitol with Congressmen Jim Hines and Chris Murphy
- Going to Capitol Hill on Tuesday and lobbying Senators and Congresspersons. Along with the rest of the Connecticut delegation, we lobbied Senators Richard Blumenthal and Joe Lieberman, then lobbied Congressman Chris Murphy with the small contingent from the 5th district.
The polite reception Obama received this year contrasted with the repeated, enthusiastic applause when he spoke at AIPAC three years ago, the morning after he clinched the Democratic presidential nomination, and proclaimed "Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel and it must remain undivided."
At AIPAC's gala banquet Sunday evening, Prime Minister Netanyahu repeatedly received standing ovations as he contrasted Israel's desire to make peace with the refusal of the leader of the Palestinian Authority to even sit down and negotiate and he explained the impossibility of ever returning to the temporary armistice lines in effect from 1949-1967.
The climax of every AIPAC Policy Conference comes Tuesday morning, when thousands of delegates take buses to Capitol Hill to lobby Congress. Each year, AIPAC selects three issues to discuss with our representatives. This year, the issues were foreign aid, particularly ensuring the $3.075 billion in defense assistance Israel needs to preserve its ability to safeguard its people; Iran's nuclear weapons program, this year lobbying for the Iran Threat Reduction Act of 2011 strengthening economic sanctions; and adhering to existing law prohibiting aid to the Palestinian Authority if it includes an unrepentant Hamas.
Most people who come to the Policy Conference return again and again, because it combines doing a wonderful mitzvah - helping to ensure the wellbeing of the Jewish homeland - with an incredibly interesting and enjoyable experience.
Next year's Policy Conference will take place in early March. Be there.