Obama upstaging Netanyahu at AIPAC?

Today’s announcement that President Barack Obama will address the AIPAC policy conference on Sunday changes the dynamics of the huge annual gathering – although most reports indicate the president will give a speech mostly intended to reassure pro-Israel voters, not announce any new Israeli-Palestinian initiatives.

Make no mistake: this is about politics, not policy. With the 2012 presidential election right around the corner, Obama’s message will be one of reassurance. Look for his speech writers to hit all the right buttons: Israel’s right to exist, Iran, secure borders, an end to terrorism, a negotiated two-state solution and not unilateral actions. Look for him to avoid the Hamas-Fatah unity agreement, Jerusalem and the issue of settlements, which caused such TSURIS eary in his administration.

In other words, don’t look for anything new.

One thing you can bet AIPAC leaders are working on today: filtering the message through its activist network to greet Obama civilly. When he appeared as a candidate in 2008, his reception was overwhelmingly positive – but there were scattered  boos and hisses, and you can be sure AIPAC wants to limit that kind of reaction this time around.

I suspect Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is also set to speak to the AIPAC throngs, is feeling a little upstaged. His reception by the AIPAC crowd will be rapturous – but still, the media is likely to focus much more on Obama’s speech, which will automatically become the big buzz event of the conference.

I’ve heard from several sources that Netanyahu will be making the rounds of Capitol Hill offices on Tuesday – the same day thousands of AIPAC delegates will be doing exactly the same thing. Won’t that suck some of the air out of the AIPAC lobby visits?

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.