Monday, March 5, 2012

Day two of AIPAC, some observations

Started my day with the lobbying session: Got to run into some Shir Ami folks, including Alan Sheinberg (my old president) and two former students, Dara Gever and Noah Tankin, which was lovely!

Again, the presentation was pretty slick, with a video talking about how to lobby. Then again, I expected this. As they said, this is their core business, lobbying and building relationships. As it happens, that's easier for us Delaware folks, as our delegation votes the 'right' way, and Senator Coons is very on top of these things, co-sponsoring important legislation etc. Frankly, the RAC could learn a thing or two on how they do their lobbying prep. On the other hand, the inverse is also true.

What was really interesting to me was not just that they want us to push aid to Israel but the entire Foriegn Aid package, including the parts that don't really help Israel directly at all. I'm surprised more isn't said about this, especially in an election cycle when everyone wants to cut foreign aid (even though it only makes up 1% of the budget and most of the money comes back to the US).  I wonder how that would change the relationship Israel has with some countries if they knew AIPAC was working to support THEM as well.

Many of the folks during the Q&A sounded like frustrated policy wonks or wannabe analysts. I kind of wanted to remind folks that we're not Intelligence Officers and that we should stick to the script and keep it simple, lest we make fools of ourselves tomorrow.

Hrmn. Will I be able to make my train?

I proceeded from that to the clergy lunch. 400 Jewish clergy of all backgrounds: not too shabby! Probably the largest gathering of klei kodesh of multiple Jewish denominations this year AT ALL, and certainly bigger than CCAR. Amazing. Also gave me a chance to meet Shmuley Boteach. Whether you like him or not he certainly raises important conversations and pushes the envelope, and helps (as a friend wrote on my wall) draw the secular toward the sacred.

After lunch The Reform clergy had a chance to pow-wow, and there were quite a few of us meeting with Rabbis Daniel Allen, Rick Jacobs and David Saperstein. No way that would have happened ten years ago. Kudos to David Kaufman for organizing year after year--your work has borne fruit!

The main conversation was over whether we could develop some kind of consensus around Iran. David asked that the conversation be 'off the record' so I won't put down any opinions here, but I appreciate how they cultivated a very broad and diverse conversation including lots of voices going in lots of different directions without pushing one or the other agenda.

From there, a session on whether sanctions are working or not against Iran. Clearly, from that presentation, Iran is being made to feel the pain. The point was made that this administration is not just taking direct sanctions but also second and third party/country sanctions seriously for the first time, and that's really starting to cut into Iran's GDP. Sadly, there seems to be no evidence that they've stopped their program. They will take a lot of pain economically before they stop that program. So a credible threat of Military action is an important dynamic of this working. This, of course, terrifies me, as the results of either American or Israeli intervention are potentially disastrous, but if left with no other choice...

There is clearly a belief that we're on a short time frame, and while the Peaceful option is the best option but it has to work. Sadly, I feel like I've heard this out of AIPAC for a while. Much of this is credible threat by Iran, of course, but how much of this is real? That is the question.

So now I'm waiting to go into the Gala (and am charging both laptop and phone). Let's see what the evening brings (other than tired feet!).

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