Netanyahu speaking last night.(Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)
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The Jews and Their City. And Their Umbrellas.

At the AIPAC Conference with Netanyahu

Allison Hoffman
March 23, 2010
Netanyahu speaking last night.(Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)

Later today, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will sit down with President Obama for the first time since November. The two leaders will presumably continue the conversation Netanyahu started yesterday in meetings with both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden. But Netanyahu’s comments last night here in Washington, D.C., to the more than 7,500 people attending the annual AIPAC convention, suggest he isn’t ready, at least publicly, to back off his right to keep building in Jerusalem.

“Jerusalem is not a settlement,” Netanyahu said, earning roaring applause for a line that was tested by other speakers earlier in the day. “It’s our capital.” To drive the point home, Netanyahu trotted out a story that he is, judging by the fact that he has told it before, pretty fond of: it’s the tale of the 2,800-year-old signet ring, which the prime minister keeps in his office, that has the name “Netanyahu” etched into it. This time, he embellished the story with a reference to Israeli President Shimon Peres, whose namesake was a brother of the first Benjamin, and roamed around Biblical Judea too. “The connection between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel cannot be denied,” Netanyahu reasoned. “The connection between the Jewish people and Jerusalem cannot be denied.”

The AIPAC delegates clapped, and gave regular standing ovations; with help from alert staff cheerleaders, they clapped loud enough to drown out two protesters who tried to interrupt the speech. (Hey, protesters! Were you the same people who interrupted Netanyahu in November? We wonder.)

After the talk, though, people cleared out of the main ballroom especially fast. Here’s the thing: it rained yesterday, off and on, in Washington, and people had their umbrellas with them. But the Secret Service, which was brought in to handle security, confiscated the potentially dangerous (I guess?) implements. (This did not make the Obama administration any more popular with the crowd, including the one Minyan-level donor—someone who gave at least $100,000 to AIPAC last year—who warned a guard he’d send the Secret Service a $15 bill if the brolly wasn’t returned.)

After dinner, these righteous umbrella-owners emerged to find only chaos. Thousands of umbrellas, most of them identical black folding models, had been unceremoniously dumped on the floor by the front door. Which naturally didn’t stop the crowd from skipping dessert to dive in; nor did it stop others—this being a conference of active, civic-minded Jews—from immediately considering the ethics of taking an umbrella that was almost like the one you brought. Judging from the triumphant cries of those who persevered (including me), the connection between these Jewish people and their own umbrellas couldn’t be denied, either.

Allison Hoffman is a senior editor at Tablet Magazine. Her Twitter feed is @allisont_dc.