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Hearing McCain Speak: AIPAC Delivers the Presidential Candidates

I’m here in Washington DC leading a delegation of 8 from Congregation Or Ami to the AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) Policy Conference.

Congregation Or Ami is well represented. Some of the larger congregations boast having 100 members present. Yet when you look at percentage of membership attending (they have 3200 plus members; Or Ami has 320), our smaller delegation seems impressive.

I have attended plenty of conventions but I must admit, this AIPAC conference is very impressive. From the use of technology to the level of assistance to the information booths to the electronic preregistration, AIPAC makes learning about our concerns very easy. Moreover, the friendships they have cultivated to support Israel becomes clear as a perusal of the program evidences their uncanny ability to turn out congressional leaders, top journalists and think tank scholars, Israeli leaders and ALL THREE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES.

We heard presumptive Republican nominee John McCain speak this morning. (See the video here.) Sitting next to Faculty member Patti Jo Wolfson and her son college campus delegate Max Cohen, I listened to Mr. McCain reaffirm his deep connection to Israel even as he laid out some pretty scary concerns about the growing influence of Iran in the Middle East. He took his swipes at Obama, as I’m sure Obama (and Clinton) will do toward McCain tomorrow. Ha’aretz, Israel’s New York Times, reviewed his speech here. AIPAC’s internal report is here.

We also heard an opening panel discussion with The Honorable Howard Berman (D-CA), Chairman, House Committee on Foreign Affairs, United States House of Representatives; Ms. Elizabeth Cheney, Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs, United States Department of State; Ambassador Dennis Ross, Counselor and Ziegler Distinguished Fellow, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy; and The Honorable Ephraim Sneh, Former Deputy Defense Minister, Member of Knesset, Labor party.

I took in a session on “Inside Islam: Can the West Overcome the Extremists and Reach Moderate Muslims” with Mr. Daniel Benjamin, Director, Center on the United States and Europe, Brookings Institution ; Dr. Martin Kramer, Wexler-Frommer Fellow, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy; Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies, Shalem Center; and Dr. Walid Phares, Senior Fellow, Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Fascinating. Scary. Thought-provoking. The conservative speaker was more hopeful; the self-described more liberal presenter was less hopeful.

I am impressed with the level of concern and discussion about Israel, Iraq, Iran, the Middle East and Israel’s relationship with America. Said simply, we need an AIPAC to help us keep the relationship strong and secure.

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