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An inside look at the pro-Israel AIPAC conference

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addresses the American Israel Public Affairs Committee annual policy conference in Washington on Monday.
REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addresses the American Israel Public Affairs Committee annual policy conference in Washington on Monday.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — As you read this, more than 7,000 pro-Israel activists are descending on Capitol Hill in Washington, to lobby their hometown legislators in support of sanctions on Iran, an increase in foreign aid to Israel and renewed affirmations of support for the U.S.- Israel relationship. The lobbying is the culmination of the largest the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) national policy conference in the organization’s history.

As editor of TC Jewfolk, the Twin Cities’ hip Jewish news, politics and culture online magazine, I was in Washington to cover the event.

About 70 Minnesotans were among the attendees at this year’s conference, including more than a dozen campus leaders. For University of Minnesota junior Zander Abrams, the place was electric. Abrams told TC Jewfolk, “It’s wild. This is the place to be if you want to be involved in the pro-Israel movement politically. It’s just such a unique opportunity. You can’t get it in Minneapolis. You really have to be here to get this type of experience, this type of exposure.”

For the Minnesotans at AIPAC, the conference was a unique opportunity to learn more about the political, economic and moral issues facing Israel and that region, and then to speak with their senators and representatives about the importance of a U.S.- Israel relationship, and the need for strong sanctions on Iran. The conference was good timing — many have said that the relationship between the two countries has been a bit on the edge these last few weeks.

“We always look forward to it,’ said Rep. Waltz, a Democrat from Minnesota’s 1st District. “We talk about issues. People provide me with good information who are experts on the United States and Israel. We have candid conversations with 90 perceent commonality on purpose. Especially now when there is a little tension in the relationship, it’s important to hear what people are thinking.”

A strong undercurrent to this year’s policy conference was the Obama administration’s vocal opposition to announced Israeli plan to build new homes in an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem. Last week Vice President Joe Biden condemned the decision to build homes as “undermining trust” and “complicating negotiations” and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton chimed in by calling the Israeli announcement “insulting” to the United States.

‘Jerusalem is not a settlement!’
But the Obama administration had critics in the crowd at AIPAC. When Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu declared “Jerusalem is not a settlement!” at the AIPAC Gala Banquet in front of thousands of delegates, and hundreds of members of Congress, executive officials and international leaders, the crowd went wild, giving Netanyahu numerous extensive standing ovations to roaring applause.

Rep. John Kline, Republican from Minnesota’s 2nd District, summed up the concerns of many at the conference. “This year’s AIPAC conference comes at a critical time in the U.S.-Israel relationship. Despite a long history of strong and mutually beneficial ties between our two nations, recent statements by the administration have cast doubt as to their support for Israel’s efforts to protect and defend herself from her enemies.”

Leora Maccabee
Leora Maccabee

Minnesota’s AIPAC attendees were adamant that “maintaining a strong U.S.- Israel alliance is not just a Jewish issue, it’s an American issue,” said University of Minnesota senior Dan Garon. “That relationship is critical to world peace,” said Minnesota AIPAC Chair Mark Rotenberg. “It’s critical to peace in the Middle East, and it’s critical to the United States’ national security interests.”

Clinton only partially alleviated attendees’ concerns in her speech at the AIPAC policy conference on Monday. While she declared her strong support for Israel (to a total of eight standing ovations), she also asserted that the Obama administration had the right to publicly criticize a friend or ally when necessary.

Minnesota reactions to Clinton’s speech were mixed. Garon said that Clinton’s message was “reassuring. She made it clear that the Arab states have an onus to stop inciting violence, that the Palestinian authority is responsible for much of the loss of trust in the peace process, and that Israel’s security will always be the number one priority.”

But Rabbi Berel Simpser of AISH-Minnesota “was not impressed at all” by “Hillary towing the party line.” He said: “I don’t think she understands. We don’t really have a partner for peace. The gulf between us and the Palestinians, or the people who are negotiating for the Palestinians, is much greater than what can be negotiated.”

Letter to Obama
As they lobby their legislators today, the AIPAC conference attendees will ask their senators and representatives to sign on to a letter urging Clinton to “to do everything possible to ensure that the recent tensions between the U.S. and Israeli administrations over the untimely announcement of future housing construction in East Jerusalem do not derail Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations or harm U.S.-Israel relations.”

Minnesota’s AIPAC conference attendees are also bringing a letter urging President Obama to “reaffirm longstanding American policy to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability and to impose tough sanctions to deal with the grave threat from Iran’s steadily-advancing nuclear program” to their meetings this morning with legislators on Capitol Hill.

Divestment from and sanctions against Iran are important issues for GOP Rep. Erik Paulsen, who attended the AIPAC Gala on Monday night. He told TC Jewfolk, “I think our time is running out in terms of Iran being a significant threat to Israel and to the rest of the world for that matter.” Former Republican Sen. Norm Coleman agreed, telling a small crowd of Republican Jews that “the threat to Israel’s existence with Iran getting a nuclear weapon is an existential threat.”

Former Minnesota AIPAC Chair Amy Rotenberg said that AIPAC’s focus is on Iran because the possibility of a nuclear Iran “poses a significant and serious threat to the security of the United States and to the entire region. Iran is the number one state sponsor of terrorism and the world cannot tolerate nuke weapons in the hands of the Iranians, who will pass it on to other rogue nations and terrorist organizations.”

Supporting Israel is not a Democratic or a Republican issue, said Walz. “Israel is our truest and closest ally in the region, with a commitment to values of personal freedoms and liberties, surrounded by a pretty tough neighborhood. A workable solution in that region can be a catalyst for stability throughout the region. And stability in the region brings stability throughout the world. The United States has a proper role as a world leader being part of the solution.”

Leora Maccabee is an attorney at the Maslon law firm and editor-in-chief of

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Comments (14)

  1. Submitted by Beryl John-Knudson on 03/23/2010 - 02:15 pm.

    “To win a truly great life for the people of Israel, a great peace is necessary. Not a fictitious peace, the dwarfish peace that is not more than an intermission, but a true peace with neighboring peoples, which alone can render possible a common development of this portion of the earth as a vanguard of the awakening of the Near East.” Martin Buber, Jewish philosopher, 1945…

    Martin Buber was an exception, but still relevant in these times…who recognized the Palestinian as equal in their right to survive…not a minority to subjugate and destroy by Israel’s self-appointed dominance over the Palestinian so demonstrated by its excessive abuse of power.

    I suggest a positive goal…if Israel were to build 1600 homes and in the true spirit of peace, present them as a gift to the Palestinian people…that would be a “great peace’; not a “dwarfish, fictitious one”.

    Foot note:
    We owe no nation allegiance,and more directly, when acts of one nation, Israel, demands that which compromises any sense of justice or decency we as a nation may realistically or even superficially hold as our too often battered hallmark…enough already,eh?

  2. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 03/23/2010 - 06:30 pm.

    When you receive $3 Billion dollars in military aid from the US while your counterpart across the negotiation table gets $0 in military aid, and then you use that military force against your counterpart in ways that are perceived by them to be unjust (whether or not you believe it to be so), how does that NOT translate into “a perception of US favoritism towards Israel”?

    And if there is a perception of US favoritism, how on earth can the US be an impartial broker of peace?

    Are the laws of physics different in Israel?

  3. Submitted by m gilmour on 03/23/2010 - 08:32 pm.


    You said “Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu declared “Jerusalem is not a settlement!”

    In the spirit of even feigning objective journalism, don’t you think it would have been worth mentioning somewhere, anywhere, in this article why the U.S. administration was upset with this announcement of settlements? And the rest of the international world’s viewpoint regarding this issue and highly controversial Netanyahu’s statement?

    Namely, that under international law East Jerusalem does not belong to Israel and that therefore Israel is illegally occupying this territory. U.N. Resolution 242 addressed this specifically over forty years ago.

    Even if you disagree with these international laws, they are facts and the reason why there is a controversy here. Any standard of journalism would require you to mention this.

  4. Submitted by Raj Maddali on 03/23/2010 - 09:01 pm.

    This is such a one sided puff piece by the author. MinnPost claims itself as some kind of superior source for journalism and all we get is an AIPAC sponsored piece that does not even mention the word Israeli settlements on Palestinian lands opposed by the entire world.

  5. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 03/24/2010 - 11:14 am.

    Given their nonplussed reaction whenever given the chance to put their words into action vis-a-vis “the poor”, one cannot help but wonder what the leftist supporters of Palistinians would do if Hamas started sending human bombs into Democrat election caucuses.

  6. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 03/24/2010 - 08:36 pm.

    It is a conundrum, but I learned on my uncle’s farm, the price of borrowing your neighbor’s cultivator is his advice on how to plow.

    It is well past time that we remind the Israelis of who needs whom.

  7. Submitted by Deborah C on 03/24/2010 - 09:51 pm.

    Dave and Richard,

    American support of Israel is multifaceted and mutually beneficial.

    Israel provides America with military intelligence which is vital to American security; this is evident by the numerous joint military exercises conducted between the United States and Israel and the massive amount of training and consultation provided by Israel to America since 9/11, Israeli technology saved HUNDREDS of American soldiers’ lives. For example, as of 2006, the Israeli Bradley Reactive Armor Tiles (BRAT) provided to the US army successfully repelled anti-armor attacks on over 100 occasions in Iraq, preventing approximately 700 U.S. soldier casualties. There are numerous other Israeli technology used by the US that both save our soldiers lives and provide our military an edge over our enemies, such as the Litening Pod, the Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System, the Pioneer and Hunter Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, and Plasan’s ballistic protection for vehicles, just to name a few.

    Israel also provides America and the word cutting edge technology and medical breakthroughs (too numerous to list here).

    Moreover, for decades Israel was American’s base in the region and provided America a buffer against the Communist U.S.S.R. in the Middle East. These days, as Israel and the United States face common enemies in the form of non-state terrorist organizations, Israel provides America a friend in a very hostile region.

    American aid support to Israel actually strengthens the… American economy! Nearly 75 percent of U.S. military aid to Israel goes directly toward purchase of products made in the USA – from military uniforms to supersonic aircraft. Thus, most U.S. aid effectively amounts to a transfer of federal funds that are pumped back into the American economy, from textile to defense industries. You may consider it a tiny part of the stimulus package (super tiny, much less than one percent) with probably one of the best returns to the American economy.

    Lastly, the bond between the United States and Israel is, at its core, based on common western values, such as democracy, an independent judiciary, and free press. Israel is the ONLY country in the region which shares our America’s values and is the ONLY trusted American ally in that important region.

  8. Submitted by Raj Maddali on 03/24/2010 - 10:13 pm.

    Deborah Campbell

    What u are stating are the standard talking points. We have all heard this over and over and over again. None of these have any standing while we sit here in America and watch the Israelis screw the Palestinians over their homelands. Taking those peoples homelands has nothing to do with fighting terrorism, Israeli technology and least of all is not a shared value of democracy with America.

  9. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 03/25/2010 - 06:58 am.

    It’s rather refreshing for the US to finally stand up and say what the rest of the world has been saying.

    Israel is behaving in a way that seems destined to isolate it from its best friends – this almost suicidal attitude encourages its worst fears – the world is out to get Jews and sadly “never again” is being replaced by “yet again” in a more subtle form.

    The fact of the matter is that Israel is driving itself off a cliff with its refusal to stop building settlements. As Hilary Clinton said, sometimes friends have to tell friends they are behaving badly.

    Unfortunately, the incompetent Bibi Netanyahu is repeating the ghastly mistakes he made last time he was prime minister – for the same reason, he is beholden to the ultra nationalists and Orthodox religious splinter groups if he want to retain power.

    Playing to his gallery is guaranteed to raise the collective eyebrow of the rest of world. We all know what the solution is – getting both parties to the table and agreeing is another thing.

    Hopefully a renewed Obama with wind in his sails after the Health reform success will crank up the pressure.

    Or save the long suffering and much abused American taxpayer a few shekels by keeping the dosh sent to Israel.

  10. Submitted by Yusuf W. on 03/25/2010 - 11:45 am.

    Dear Ms. Campbell,

    Thank you so much for the refreshing post, I appreciate your honest and reliable use of facts (so many just use Rhetoric with no connection to the facts). As someone who grow up in the Middle East I know how Rhetoric is used to deceive and hide the facts. English is not my first language so please excuse my poor writing.

    Your post was a reply to both Dave’s question “What, if any, benefit is there for the United States to continue its support of Israel?” and to Richard statement that Israel is the only beneficiary of this relationship. You provided an excellent answer based on facts that demonstrated that the US-Israel relationship is a two-way beneficial relationship. I am sorry to see that other responses to your post were to use Rhetoric and not facts.

    The facts are that the Radical Muslims groups in the region call America “The Great Satan” (these are their words, not mine), and again and again THEY declare that the US is their main target and Israel is just a puppet of the US. They hate the US for a lot of reasons (mostly bad reasons), including for what we are, and will hate and target the US even if Israel doesn’t exist.

    The facts are that no other people have more rights then the Jews to call that piece of land “their homeland”.

    The facts are that the people that NOW call themselves Palestinians are no more then modern terminology of the Arab countries as part of their campaign to destroy the Jewish state. Can you show me ONE reference, in any book before 1947, to this group of people as “Palestinians”? You can’t!

    Bottom line, Israel needs America and America needs Israel, breaking this important partnership is bad news to both sides.

  11. Submitted by Beryl John-Knudson on 03/30/2010 - 12:24 pm.

    One more comment after reading the lock-step, boot-clicking, unacceptable manifestos written by hard-core militant Israeli supporters…and note also, this has nothing to do with my heritage-respect for Judaism…or Muslim, Christianity or Buddhism; others’ religious choices.

    I’m talking secular,or more specifically, as in ‘goverment’ here…big differance.

    Do remember that we as citizens of the state of Minnesota have so unfortunately invested almost 20 million in Israeli bonds and in the process have not too indirectly comtributed to the deaths of Palestinan children…four more last week hit by Israeli militia bullets (real not rubber,eh)

    The bonds we share with Israel have become a yoke that pretty well chokes us and destroys any dedication to justice; the precious nature of dignity and humanity we do believe in for all people.

    Our hand print shines bloody red as the result of such for-profit and military-might investments.

  12. Submitted by Beryl John-Knudson on 03/31/2010 - 12:15 am.

    Follow the money…follow the bonds.

    Is it not wise to know where our tax money is going; to be so ‘carefully’ invested?

    Twenty million can fund or share in the funding of what has and is being done to the least of these…the children?

    A documentary that tells the story…”The Children of Gaza” Worldclearinghouse.info___World News Daily.

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