First, the real story is about AIPAC, but there is another one that deserves recognition.
Advocates for Israel (AFI) garnered attention with their meeting held right after the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, DC. AFI is a small pro-Israel advocacy group in Ashland, OR, that describes itself as a “grass roots” organization. In other words, they try to activate people in favor of Israel from the ground up, rather than the top down. And that means the American people at the local and state levels. They are a lot like our own local Stand By Israel (SBI).
All over the country there are individuals, frustrated by the lack of Israel advocacy at their local levels and angered by the Jewish lack of response to seemingly unencumbered anti-Israel advocacy, who spontaneously and independently form their own groups to advocate explicitly against the perceived bias against and misrepresentation of Israel. They think of themselves as largely organizing outside the normal Jewish channels. In some cases, they feel they even face hostility from other Jewish agencies. AFI took the initiative to get these organizations together by organizing a conferenc e of leaders from around the country immediately following the AIPAC Conference.
I attended the AFI conference as a representative of the group, Stand By Israel.
Speaking of groups that are anti-Israel, there was a plethora of them in D.C. outside the Washington Convention Center where the AIPAC Conference took place, and on Capitol Hill where AIPAC delegates were lobbying members of Congress. Code Pink seemed to be in the lead of the few dozen protestors gathered each day who seemed to have maximum access to the conventioneers. They made use of their Jewish members to bullhorn about their Jewishness and their sentiments, for instance, that Israel is an apartheid state, oppressing the Palestinian population. They maintained a stage across the street from the Center where delegates were provoked to argue with them about the politics of the Middle East.
The protest got a little more volatile when Newt Gingrich passed them (and me) on his way into the Conference and a policewoman admonished one woman from making direct contact with the former House Speaker. He was jostled a lot nevertheless.
I did raise one question to them on my way in, noting their Western appearance: I asked “where are the Palestinians?” At first flustered, one eventually shouted back, “in the refugee camps.”
Our District Two Representative Jared Polis invited the entire Colorado Delegation to a midnight tour he and an aide personally conducted of the Capitol Building, including the House Floor and the chambers where he conducts his personal assignment on the House Rules Committee. The Capitol Building is profoundly impressive as art and architecture and the history is awe-inspiring. Representative Polis was a great and gracious host and a well-spoken tour guide. I found he and his staff and those of both Colorado Senators Udall and Bennett, whom we Coloradans met the next day during our lobbying efforts, to be intimately accessible and very receptive to AIPAC’s agenda.
It was also impressive to see all the youth at the AIPAC Conference at both the college and high school levels. Many came along with their families, but at least 1,500 came from some 400 colleges and as part of youth groups, including 250 student government presidents. My wife Kathryn and I had a chance to sit down with a few of them at lunchtime in the cafeteria. Two from Baltimore as part of a larger group of 20 from their high school said it was a mission of theirs to support Israel. Four of them were non-Jewish college students, one was the President of the largest College Republican s chapter in the country. They were strongly supportive of AIPAC and Israel’s struggle against delegitimization. One other student was getting his undergraduate degree in nuclear engineering and could already inform me how the Stuxnet virus interfered specifically with the Iranian plans to develop a nuclear bomb.
The AIPAC lobbying agenda on Tuesday had delegations for each and every Congressperson and focused on three issues: Firstly, AIPAC delegates urged their Senators and Representatives to support $3.075 billion dollars of security assistance to Israel; second, for them to pass the Iran Threat Reduction Act (H.R. 1905) which vastly toughens the sanctions on Iran passed last year; third, to sign and support separate bills in the House and Senate which call on the administration to threaten a major change in support to the Palestinian government, known as the Palestinian Authority, if they try to unilaterally create a state at the UN or ally with an unreformed Hamas.