The Symbolic Zen of AIPAC
The loose threads of the conference
Being a member of the press at an event like AIPAC is a series of frustrating exercises. Unlike the participants, who largely seem to revel in the perfectly manicured, shiny, and ruthlessly scheduled conference, those in search of stories are left with subtext and tea leaves from which to cobble some narratives.
For us, those wondrous strolls from floor to placarded floor of the massive convention center down to its sprawling three-block-long subterranean AIPAC Village takes on an existential heaviness. Over at Slate, Dave Weigel explained:
Conference organizers restricted media access to most breakout sessions, including every session involving a current member of Congress. No reporter could watch the leaders of the House Foreign Relations Committee debrief on the year to come; none could watch Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who spent the last month asking for records of old Hagel speeches, speak at a town hall about “how members of Congress experience Israel.”
With no elections, no prime ministers, and no presidents, this year was particularly tough to squeeze ideas from. After all, the main theme and story was friendship, the safest and most unassailable of concepts. Considering that important battles on budget cuts and Chuck Hagel went unwaged by the premier pro-Israel PAC, literally ending hours before the conference, the mood here was more Alka-Seltzer than Red Bull.
Throughout the conference, the politicians traded their predictable barbs, particularly on Syria with Eric Cantor and John McCain taking the administration to task for its perceived non-action and Joe Biden fighting back by saying that opposition in Syria needed to be vetted first. It was like last year’s “loose talk of war” moment with President Obama, but without the captive audience or consequences.
This morning, AIPAC participants will lobby their congressional offices, not with more demands on Iran or detailed requests for foreign aid or censures for Turkey’s odious statements about Zionism or any of the other loose threads trotted out to whinny briefly before being put back in the AIPAC stable, but with a bill asking Congress to grant Israel the status of “major strategic ally,” a title never-before-bestowed upon an American friend through legislative action.
The “major strategic ally” bill codifies a number of existing facets of the relationship, including annual defense assistance and cooperation on missile defense, energy research and cyber security.
It also calls for Israel to join the program that waives pre-arranged visas for select nationals entering the United States.
In other words, things that are pretty much already guaranteed in the special relationship will be in the bill. In other words, with not much else to say, a symbolic gesture will have to do.
Plus Barak says unilateral withdrawal from West Bank should be considered