Sunday, March 4, 2012

AIPAC first impressions

AIPAC policy conference initial observations:
1. even in a see of a tremendous numbers of people--13k!--I can still run into people I know, like Rabbis Mark Dov Shapiro and Simcha Bob, as well as Wilmingtonians (50 strong!)
2. I've heard criticism of President Obama's speech this morning as 'political'. What makes a speech political? It was centered around policy--foreign and defense--but these are political endeavors. He's the president, not a policy wonk from the Cato Institute. How could it not be political?
3. Disappointed by the Afternoon plenary, but still found certain things fascinating. For example:
-The emphasis on diversity--political but also religious diversity. Not just Jews but repeatedly referring to "people of all faiths". Show's where AIPAC--once a purely "Jewish" endeavor--could be heading.
-The use of text, specifically around Esther and Purim and the idea of Speaking Truth to Power (though some may argue that AIPAC has quite a bit of power itself). Jewish text and Jewish subtext, despite diversity.
-This event is HIGHLY, HIGHLY SCRIPTED. Even more than URJ (and certainly more than CCAR). To the point of being Slick. Has the feel of being a tent revival.
-Going out of their way to appear bipartisan--lots of diversity.
-Talking about Michael Kassen (the incoming president): at length, very slickly done, lots of references from varied politicians. "He understands that History doesn't just happen: we can all shape history".Though when he speaks, there's a sense that he's fishing for applause with certain lines and ideas.
-There is this focus on idea of Israel being under greater threat than any time in last four decades. Sense that Arab Spring is a threat not an opportunity. Israel an inoccent bystander, ETC. Very much pushing the "Israel is under existential threat" idea, which isn't WRONG per se, but you'd think the last 30 years hadn't happened. This is a really red meat program and crowd. Lots of military talk, not so much on foriegn policy.

Kassen's speech was followed by Frank Sesno moderating a 'panel' of AIPAC staffers. Since when did AIPAC start providing money to candidates?! Raise money for 'friends and potential friends' to 'educate' them 'but there are no guarrentees.' I can safely say that I don't see that emphasized at the local level by AIPAC. Perhaps I'm not enough in the know (always possibly with me) but that took me by surprise.

Parts of the first panel was very interesting. For example, modeling what it's like to build a relationship with your political leaders. Coming from Delaware, we're spoiled, but I still get nervous talking to our elected officials, so it was gratifying to hear how one might develop those relationships. On the other hand, I can see why elected officials see Jews as a one-issue kind of group, based on this experience thus far.

One of the panelists--the only woman (sadly I didn't catch her name, will follow up) pushed the idea that more women need to participate in AIPAC, especially in the political process, and I was glad to hear that.

Sesno moderated a second panel of William Kristol, Paul Begala, Michael Murphy and Donna Brazille on the presidential race. Boy, there are lots of ways to say "I don't know".

After getting our delegation photograph (I felt badly for our local guys, Seth Mirowitz and Josh Schoenberg, as it degenerated into complete bedlam, including the absence of an official photographer--we ended up doing a DE group shot and calling it a night) we went to the Mid-Atlantic dinner. It was a Culinary disappointment, but I expected that. The company was good, albeit exhausted.

I did make my way to the RAC/URJ/ARZA reception at the Old Dominion Tavern. This was the first year the Reform Movement had a real presence and as I told them, I was so grateful for that. It made me feel a little less out of my element.

I'm skipping Avigdor Lieberman at the Plenary tomorrow, so we'll see what the clergy program brings.

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