Anti-Semites on the hard right and the hard left love to decry the power of the “Jewish lobby.” In one sense they’re right. Israel does exert a profound pull on the American soul. The two nations share deep commonalities, interests and profound respect. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or Aipac, gains its strength not only from Jewish support, but also from the scores of millions of gentile Americans who cherish these bonds.
Aipac’s tent is big—some 18,000 people will show up to this weekend’s Policy Conference—and it supports the U.S.-Israel relationship no matter who’s in power in either country. I’ve attended the annual gathering for more than 25 years. One finds conservatives and liberals and a sense of relief that, for a few days, the elephants lie down with the donkeys. The solidarity reminds me of Pittsburgh Steelers home games, only with less religious fervor.
You’ve heard of two Jews, three opinions? Do the math for 18,000. The conference’s first two days feature political, cultural, military and media mavens from all sides of every issue. Yet together the group forges a rough consensus on the policies that strengthen the U.S.-Israel relationship.
Why do these Americans—many of whom aren’t Jews but black ministers, Hispanic businessmen, student leaders and Midwestern firemen—care so much about the well-being of a country the size of New Jersey, half a world away?
It’s not about “the Benjamins.” Last year Aipac spent $3.5 million on lobbying. International Paper spent $3.8 million. Nor is Aipac about secret loyalty to Israel, lawmakers betraying oaths, or any other twist on ancient libels. Aipac is driven by the Smiths, the Joneses and the Sanchezes, Americans who intuitively grasp the importance of support for the Jewish state.
Some admire Israel as a plucky democracy standing up for deeply American values of liberty and pluralism. For others it’s Israel’s progressive treatment of women and gays. Some see Israel on the front lines of the war on terror and want to help it fight back. Others admire Israel because the Hebrew Bible states that those who bless Abraham and his great nation will themselves be blessed. Is it purely a coincidence that America, the most successful country in history, treats its Jews better than any other nation ever has?
Aipac knows the best time to meet your congressman was 15 years ago, so the third day of every conference ends on Capitol Hill. In celebration of the First Amendment, ideas explored the previous two days are distilled into legislation and letters that attendees take to their representatives to discuss and ask for support. The activists will thank lawmakers for supporting Israel with military aid, and express concern about Iran, an Islamic state that daily threatens to annihilate the only Jewish one.
Yesterday was the holiday of Purim. It celebrates how the Jews, with the wisdom of Mordechai and the bravery of Queen Esther, dodged an ancient Persian genocide. Following the heroes of old, Aipac encourages Americans of all stripes to stand strong together with Israel against Iranian threats and prevent another modern holocaust.
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