This week I had the pleasure of attending the annual AIPAC policy conference in Washington DC.
There were three messages that were guaranteed to meet with strong approval from the AIPAC crowd. Bipartisan political support, unbreakable bilateral relations and concrete security guarantees for Israel. Oh, and Bibi. They love him – there were whoops and applause whenever his image appeared on the jumbo screens suspended over the centre of the Verizon sports complex.
This was the largest AIPAC policy conference ever, 18,700 people of which (as we were regularly reminded) included 4,000 university students.
The first “general session” was instructive and indicative of the tone of the conference. In the two-hour “show”, every message was carefully calibrated to appeal to the largest common denominator. If one takes away British cynicism and sensibilities to loud American swagger, it was most impressive.
There were speakers and video presentations from African Americans, Hispanics, feminists, environmentalists, innovators, everything with a pro-Israel twist. For example, three African American politicians from South Carolina explained on stage the efforts they went to impose and implement sanctions against Iran in their state.
Then when floods devastated parts of their constituency, among the relief workers they heard Hebrew being spoken – a team had been sent from IsrAid.
There was also a presentation of an Israeli NGO that taught disabled and disadvantaged children musical instruments at the end of a short video clip one of the children from the film appeared on stage.
A little girl, born without eyes and abandoned, sang a song accompanied by an IDF soldier on the piano.
All this was presented in a slick and compelling narrative combining a revolving central stage and multimedia presentations on the jumbo screen above.
The culmination of this session was VP Biden. Probably the only person that refers to the current White House as Obama-Biden administration.
He appeared genuinely emotional when he reflected back on family visits to Israel including with his son who died recently.
He concluded with his classic tale meeting Prime Minister Golda Meir as a young senator in the early 70s: during a photo opp, she whispered to him, “do you want to know our secret weapon?”
He was taken aback in anticipation over what was to come next… “We have nowhere else to go,” was her sobering response.
Among the 100s of speakers, BICOM CEO James Sorene addressed an invite only audience about Israel in the media. It was reassuring and inspiring to hear from countless delegates how much they appreciate BICOM’s daily brief and delving into our Fathom journal.
First up among the Presidential candidates, was Hillary Clinton with a strong, polished, non-controversial speech. She joked how PM Rabin never forgave her after she insisted; when in the White House he had to smoke on the balcony. She received (one of several) standing ovations when she promised, if elected, she would host the Israeli PM at the White House “very soon”.
Among the Republican candidates it was Donald Trump who elicited the most attention. In a rambunctious address which included the absurd claim that he has “studied the Iranian deal more than anyone else and it’s a bad deal”.
He rallied against President Obama as “the worst thing to ever happen to Israel”. He also promised to relocate the US Embassy to the “eternal capital Jerusalem”.
Not to be outdone, he was followed by Senator Ted Cruz who promised to cut federal funding for any institution that adopted BDS. He finished in a flurry declaring in hebrew “Am Yisrael Chai” to the delight of the crowd.
Richard Pater is a political analyst based in Jerusalem and the Director of BICOM Israel