Politico’s Ben Smith attempted to have a little fun at the expense of AIPAC today when he posted the text of an e-mail from the group’s president urging those who attend its annual conference to behave with civility toward guest speakers. Smith jibed that since no one at AIPAC could be worried about Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu being heckled, this must have been a special alert in order to head off potential booing of President Obama when he speaks there on Sunday. Smith had to backtrack a little bit on this when he subsequently learned that the sending of such warnings to AIPAC conference attendees is an annual rite and not something that had to be ginned up in order to specifically protect Obama.
However, Smith’s little joke betrays a common misunderstanding of what AIPAC is and who belongs to it. Far from being a Likudnik and right-wing tool, it is a genuine wall-to-wall coalition of supporters of Israel. Like the “Israel Lobby” that Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer rage about, it is so broad-based that it is at times difficult to pin down. For decades, AIPAC conferences have been the venue for both Democrats and Republicans to illustrate their support for Israel as well as for Likud, Labor and Kadima prime ministers of Israel to explain their country’s positions to its American friends.
It may well be true that there will be a great many people at the conference who will remember Barack Obama’s warm support for a united Jerusalem at their 2008 gathering and how he backtracked on that pledge within 24 hours. Others will also remember the way Obama distanced himself from Israel and picked unnecessary and ultimately counter-productive fights with Netanyahu on the status of Jerusalem. But anyone who thinks the activists who show up at the conference are all people who will vote against Obama next year knows nothing about AIPAC which remains an organization where you are as likely to bump into a Democrat as a Republican.