The view from AIPAC

So many people inside the AIPAC conference are doing such hard work to further the cause of peace in the Middle East. Detracting from their efforts is, frankly, an insult

AIPAC 2013 is under way
The Commentator
On 4 March 2013 13:36

This week The Commentator is visiting the America-Israel Public Affair Committee Policy Conference 2013, better known as AIPAC.

Renowned for its glitz, high-budget production and audiences in the tens of thousands, AIPAC is truly one of the most immense, intense and bizarre conferences you could ever attend – and if you’re of a pro-Israel perspective, you definitely should.

Currently, this year’s 13,000 attendees are lining up and passing through Secret Service security to hear Vice President Joe Biden address the conference – but those are headlines you can read about elsewhere.

AIPAC’s ability to coalesce so many Israel-supporters from around the world is truly a testament to how deeply and passionately their staff, board and directors feel about the security of Israel.

But it’s not just the security of Israel that you’ll find on show here. While the gaggle of protestors outside the venue will dance around with offensive placards and spout misinformed conspiracy theory (some conspiracy theorists can actually be very well informed) – the inner workings of the AIPAC conference are far more geared towards peace than division, more interested in development than stagnation, and more hopeful about the future than bitter about the past.

Yesterday for instance, many hours were dedicated to technological and medical developments from Israel which have saved hundreds of thousands of lives worldwide. New equipment to stamp out aids in Africa, new machinery to help drivers and stop car accidents, new limb attachments to help paraplegic men and women to walk again.

Of course, that is not to say that it is all smiles, joy and Israel-advertising. At the heart of the policy discussion is criticism towards Israel, its leadership and the way it often conducts business. And rightly so. No man or woman, let alone a crowd of 13,000 can be expected to draw relevant and informative conclusions from the three-day event without appreciating that the onus indeed is not just at the feet of the Palestinians, the Iranians, the EU, UN or other involved organisations.

The Israeli speakers at AIPAC are well aware of the increasingly important, forward-thinking role that Israel must play. The Americans and international observers are all too happy to hear about it.

Iran, Hamas, Syria and the Israeli elections all feature prominently in this years’ policy conference agenda.

On Iran, it is repeatedly remarked that Israel cannot stand for a nuclear-capable country that repeatedly threatens to wipe the Jewish State off the map. But as yet, without sounding dismissive of progress, there still appears to be no consensus over specifically how to deal with the issue. Some experts have commented that sanctions are working and that patience is required. Others, including one of the keynote speakers of yesterday, Elliot Abrams, note that while sanctions are a great way of reducing economic might, unless you’re trying to push food prices up for ordinary Iranians, they have simply achieved all they can now.

On Syria, the calculation is being made about what Israel and America’s role should be in bringing to an end the two-year conflict that has claimed over 70,000 lives. Pressingly, for Israel, the question of Syria’s chemical weapons and Hezbollah’s influence in the country often arises. It strikes us that Israel will likely have to lead America on this issue, especially due to the proximity of the conflict and the recently pusillanimous leadership of President Obama.

As AIPAC enters its second day today, the conversation continues on a plethora of issues. Today alone you can find dozens of break-out panel discussions with leading thinkers, academics, politicians and activists. From UNRWA to Europe, history to faith, terrorism, Jordan, Libya, the Arab Spring, technology, Africa, LGBT events and more – there is something for everyone at AIPAC.

If only the protestors outside ponied up the cost of a ticket and came to some of the sessions themselves – they may well realise how their characterisation of the event as a bunch of power-hungry, warmongering Jews talking about how they’re going to oppress the Palestinians is grossly offensive, not because of the anti-Semitic stereotypes, but because so many people in here are doing such hard work to further the cause of peace in the region.

Detracting from it in such crass and ill-informed way is, frankly, an insult.

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