At this year’s AIPAC Policy Conference, my fifth, AIPAC itself was the story. A number of Democrat Presidential Candidates had announced they were staying away. And the spectre hung over the Conference of the comments of Rep Ilhan Omar (Dem) who had criticised the impact of AIPAC in antisemitic terms, and whose conduct had been only lightly criticised by the House of Representatives.
Senior Democrats tried to reassert the party’s support for Israel and many speakers lauded AIPAC’s bipartisanship in support of Israel.
But Vice President Mike Pence did not read the script. He came to hammer the Democrats and to build up Donald Trump. With impeccable timing, Trump had, on the Monday, formally confirmed US recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights. The crowd loved it and Pence made a noticeably partisan speech. He even gloated at Robert Mueller’s report failing to produce evidence of any collusion on Russia. It was hardly on point, but who cares when you are live on TV.
The AIPAC crowd love a standing ovation. This years “trigger words, which brought the audience to their feet, were “Expand US/Israel Cooperation”, “Iran will never get a nuclear bomb” (This is a hardy perennial)” and “Oppose BDS”. Special affection was shown to a trio of new Female Senators and Congresswomen who had served in the military and were huge supporters of military cooperation with Israel.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeio gave an odd speech in which he held himself and the State Department out as the new International policemen against antisemitism. It felt like another move towards the AIPAC crowd by the Administration with election season about to start.
The star of the show though was Joan Ryan. UK antisemitism was of huge interest. I was on a panel about it with Karen Pollock and James Sorene. But Joan spoke eloquently and passionately about why she had left the Labour Party. She walked out to lukewarm applause. But she left to a standing ovation and cheers. She even rivalled Nicki Haley!
And Joan’s speech was the big talking point of the Conference.