AIPAC’s annual conference got under way today in Washington D.C. The crowd was, in contrast to past years, more on edge, more distressed, and, frankly, more anti-administration. The conference comes after an eye-opening (for some) clash between the Obami and the Israeli government. In the talk in the halls, the questions at the panels, and the crowd reaction to speakers’ remarks, one senses that these people have had quite enough of the Obami’s approach to Israel.
I spoke to a rabbi of a New Jersey Conservative synagogue and a group of his congregants. They had 65 attendees before the Obami’s war of words. That number went up to 76. What was their reaction to the Obami offensive? “Disappointed,” responded several in the group. One congregant said, “This is going to have to blow over. Everyone understands East Jerusalem is not negotiable.” I asked, “You think the administration does?” He replied, “This is just to show the Arabs how tough he is.” I asked if they were concerned about the administration’s approach on Iran. “This has all been a step backward,” another answered. “The blowup is to distract attention from the fact we’ve done nothing on Iran.” And how will they greet Hillary Clinton on Monday? The rabbi said with great deliberations: “With respect.” Another added, “She’s not getting a standing ovation.”
A woman from Atlanta, a first-time attendee, says she votes Democratic. She was obviously pained over the recent flap. “Why is Israel the only one we tell what to do?” Her group’s attendance set an all-time high of 120. (Overall, the conference has a record 7,500.)
An elderly couple from Florida were agitated by recent events. The wife explained she that had fled Nazi Germany as a child for Shanghai. “There are parallels,” she said. “This is depressing. It’s scary.” She said that she had argued with her liberal friends during the campaign about Obama’s associations with anti-Israel figures. “My mother always said where there is smoke, there is fire,” she explained, then added wearily, “They didn’t listen.” She bemoaned the fact that Jews’ political activities are fragmented on issues like global warming. “There are plenty of people to do that,” she said. “Where are they on Israel?”
That’s just a sampling, but it gives you a sense of the angst. This is not a crowd that is celebrating. They are worried. Very worried.