I was invited to speak at the annual AIPAC Policy Conference this weekend in Washington and it's clearer to me now than ever that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the pro-Israel lobby at the throbbing center of conspiracy theories on the far-left and the far-right, is actually at the center of an iron-clad bipartisan consensus in our nation's capital.
Not only did President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speak to the thousands in attendance, so did a long list of senators and representatives from both political parties. Democrats and Republicans are here in equal numbers not only on the stage, but also in the audience and in the numerous conference rooms. I've met as many liberals here as conservatives.
There were 14,000 of us inside the convention center. I saw at most 20 protesters outside from Occupy AIPAC, a measly little anti-Zionist spinoff from Occupy Wall Street. My wife stepped out for a coffee run and saw maybe a hundred of them. Someone wrote “Victory to Hezbollah” and “Victory to Hamas” in yellow chalk on the sidewalk. I don't know if the person responsible for that is from the “Occupy” group or not. Either way, no one had the guts to attach their name and face to that sentiment by saying anything of the sort, either verbally or on a placard, in broad daylight. Not in this town.
Barack Obama delivered the most pro-Israel speech of his presidency to a bipartisan round of applause. I objected to one or two lines, but that was it. He seemed to relish picking public fights with the Jewish state and its prime minister early in his presidency, but he hasn't been doing it lately. So there's a case to be made that he really has changed, that his caustic relationship with Jerusalem is a thing of the past. I can be as cynical about politicians as the next person, and of course it's entirely possible that he was just telling everyone in the crowd what they wanted to hear, but the speech was broadcast on television. When the president of the United States speaks, the entire world hears him. “When the chips are down,” he said, “I have Israel's back.” Those words were heard not only at the AIPAC conference, but also in the heartland of America, in Jerusalem, in Cairo, and in Tehran.
Cynics might say he isn't serious. Paranoiacs might think he has finally succumbed to the Zionist octopus. AIPAC, though, is as much a grassroots organization as it possible for a lobbying group to be in this country. And it would get nowhere if its insistence on a close and special relationship between the United States and Israel didn't resonate powerfully with American public opinion. Imagine how successful a group like AIPAC would be if it lobbied for, say, a tight relationship with the Russians or with Hamas.
For decades public opinion polls in the United States have shown that Americans sympathize with the Israelis more than the Palestinians by nearly four to one. Barack Obama may not have always sided with the majority on this question, but he appears to have been mainstreamed in the meantime. And if he's faking it like some of my colleagues seem to believe, well, that just goes to show that the consensus in Washington and in America as a whole is one not even a president has the power to break.