Monday, June 2, 2008

AIPAC Policy Conference: Day 1

Simultaneously bleary eyed and invigorated, I am completing my first day at the AIPAC Conference in Washington. Ethan, my 17 year old, is joining me on this road trip as a student delegate and together we left Stamford before dawn this morning, arriving in D.C . in time to catch the latter part of the morning plenary.

Imagine a room so large that the Washington Monument could fit in it horizontally, then fill that room with 7,500 supporters of Israel, people of all races and religions; throw in a heated, historic primary season that is coming to its climax right here, and toss in as well a Middle Eastern tableau that is as complex as it is explosive, and that is where we are right now.

Prior to the conference, delegates were admonished to be warm and welcoming to all guests, but the welcome for John McCain went far beyond that. It is clear that, at least at the moment, the support McCain enjoys here is unchartered territory for a Republican Presidential candidate. At a breakout session this afternoon, a straw poll of the hundreds of delegates in the room was taken and McCain seemed the clear favorite. At that point Donna Brazile, one of the panelists, lightheartedly asked for a recount.

All of this simply means that, in its own way, Barack Obama’s speech here on Wednesday might be as significant to righting his electoral ship as was his speech on race delivered several weeks ago. Sharing the stage with Hillary Clinton, just hours after the last primary vote has been cast – the presumptive nominee will need to go beyond the expected platitudes in demonstrating his toughness and his support of Israel. One panelist today speculated that he might go where John McCain did not, and throw his support behind a congressional proposal where the US would integrate Israel fully into its own missile defense system, enabling Israel to shoot down Iranian missiles while they are still over Iran (the Israeli system, the Arrow, would, when operational, only shoot them down once they are over Israel).

But today was about far more than presidential politics. It was about this weighty moment in history and our unique opportunity to impact it. In the midst of the obvious concerns, particularly involving Iran, Gaza and Lebanon, there were some pockets of hope that I could garner from the sessions I attended (among the dozens offered):

· While Gaza boils over, there has been some marked improvement in the West Bank, where the Palestinians are restoring law and order. A reporter from Ha’aretz spoke of how former Aksa Brigade terrorists have become social pariahs and are giving up arms.
· Abu Mazen is widely seen as genuinely wanting to reach an agreement, but neither he nor Olmert are much respected by their people (Olmert speaks here on Tuesday)
· Because of this, former Hoffman lecturer Dennis Ross suggested that peace can only be built from the bottom up – and progress can be shown without compromising israel’s security (he suggested that West Bank checkpoints can be maintained while Israel finds ways to expedite the process of passage through them – simply by opening up five lanes instead of one)
· We are coming close to zero hour on Iran. Knesset member Ephraim Sneh said that if Iran is on the verge of nuclear capability, “no Israeli government will allow that to happen.”
· Our most recent Hoffman lecturer, Michael Oren, lent the historical perspective this evening, comparing today’s situation to Israel’s far more precarious predicaments in 1948 and 1967. Unlike then, today Israel’s economy is flourishing and it has solid relations with China, India, man y former Soviet states and Europe, and the relations the with US have never been more solid.

“Where in history is there a story like Israel?” Oren concluded.

As the bus back to the hotel pulled away from the convention center (where we also enjoyed dinner with Darice Bailer and family), I noticed that we had a police escort; a subtle reminder of the dangers of stepping into the arena, to help make history. Dangerous, perhaps, but all the more exhilarating.

More to come…meanwhile, some comments from Ethan:

Hey everyone! I’m having a great time here in Washington D.C. at the AIPAC Conference. It is amazing to see all of the extremely notable politicians, analysts and lobbyists here. I think that this is an experience that everyone in Stamford should, eventually, be privileged to experience sometime in their lives.

1 comment:

Scott said...

Thanks for the "flavor" of the meetings.
Do you think that the Jewish community, both there and here at home, will be able, come November, to accept Obama over Clinton; more importantly, will they vote for him rather than casting their ballots for McCain?