The American Israel Public Affairs Committee's annual policy conference going on at the Washington Convention Center is the best dog and pony show in town, replete with a variety of interesting breakout groups, intelligent speakers, training sessions for activists, hasbarah, hands-on lobbying for the rank and file and the star power of meeting a glad-handing herd of pandering politicians.
What really brings out the politicians, incumbents and challengers, is a chance to meet the money people, get blessings for their position statements and swear fealty ala Bill de Blasio.
It is also an occasion when the organization expects a plethora of media coverage extolling its power and influence – supplying quotes to use for extensive self-promotion and fundraising — but this year is different. Even if the conference weren't overshadowed by Vladimir Putin's moves to seize portions of Ukraine and by the Oscars, it is still trying to recover from self-inflicted wounds over its bungled campaign to enact tough new sanctions on Iran that the President warned could threaten to scuttle nuclear talks and spark war. And it also will be trying to repair its badly tarnished reputation for bipartisanship.
That could be tested in its reception for speakers representing an administration that Republican Jews and others on right have accused of being hostile to Israel.
First up will be Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, an Orthodox Jew, on Sunday afternoon, followed Monday evening by Secretary of State John Kerry, grandson of Jews, who will talk about his efforts to broker peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
The highlight will be Tuesday morning's pep rally by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who, upon leaving for Washington, announced, "I am going to represent the people of Israel in the United States." That's amazing. Who would have expected to hear something so unexpected?
Before speaking to the expected 14,000 AIPAC delegates, Netanyahu will be stopping by the Oval Office, where he said he intends to tell Barack Obama not to bother asking for a settlement freeze because the answer will be "NO!" That's the word from Israel Hayom, the Israeli newspaper owned by casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, a staunch Netanyahu supporter, Obama hater and foe of Palestinian statehood.
Delegates will hear directly from Netanyahu what AIPAC will be saying and doing throughout the coming year. His role will be to motivate the true believers to march up to Capitol Hill and warn their elected representatives that the Iranians and Palestinians can't be trusted and pose a mortal threat to the survival of the Jewish state.
Bibi loves coming to AIPAC conferences. He knows he will get a dramatically more enthusiastic reception than anything he can get back home, especially from his own fractured Likud Party, where plots to overthrow him are so rife that before boarding Air Force Aleph he felt compelled to announce "Let me make it clear to all my rivals in the Likud, who have been spreading rumors suggesting I'm considering leaving the party — I'm not going anywhere."
And then he left for the country where he grew up, attended high school and college and launched his political and diplomatic careers.