The pro-Israel lobby, led by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), is one of the most powerful political forces in Washington. The lobby's initiatives, backed by tens of millions in dollars in political contributions, often become legislation that passes overwhelmingly in Congress. Its supporters say AIPAC is key to the strategic U.S.-Israel alliance. Its critics contend that the lobby's unconditional support for controversial Israeli policies are counter-productive for both Israel and the U.S.
AIPAC: The Convention
More than two-thirds of the Senate and almost two-thirds of the House attended the convention banquet this year. AIPAC proudly performed its annual “roll call” of each member of Congress present at the event. The scene matched the theme of the three-day affair and the mantra of the organization: “Join us, because we’re influential and we can help you help Israel.”
After the big shows, AIPAC showed promotional videos in the halls of the convention center that spoke of the special relationship its members have developed with Congress and its staff.
“It blows me away that I make change. And it blows me away that I'm heard. And it blows me away that the chief of staff answers my calls and returns my phone calls and, um, the congresswoman knows me by name and knows my kids and knows what’s happening in my life,” said pro-Israel political activist Julie Gadinsky, from Los Angeles, in an AIPAC video from the conference.
A Sunday-evening presentation at the conference also emphasized the importance of growing and maintaining close congressional relationships. The presentation encouraged people to get more involved in pro-Israel politics, outside of their commitment to AIPAC, and make a financial committment.
When the presentations finished and the videos stopped playing at the end of the day, AIPAC held private gatherings where delegates could meet members of Congress in more intimate settings.
On Sunday night, Talia Resin, a Los Angeles AIPAC leader who belongs to Beverly Hills' Sinai Temple, said she went to two different receptions to meet with members of the House. One was just for her temple delegation, which two House members attended. AIPAC also hosted a dinner for Resin and about 20 other members, which two other members attended, including Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Whittier).
Every year AIPAC finishes its convention by organizing a massive lobbying campaign on Capitol Hill. This year it made more than 526 lobbying appointments with members of Congress or their chiefs of staff, according to AIPAC's executive director, Howard Kohr, at the conference. Before pro-Israel supporters go to their appointments, AIPAC has delegates attend special training sessions on how to effectively deliver the organization's talking points.
The lobbying campaign is a way for everyone to take action on all the things they’ve learned at the convention, says Resin.