Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
The Prime Minister looked and sounded exhausted but he loves to come to the AIPAC policy conference. It feeds his juices probably better than any audience he addresses even at home. The response was enthusiastic. The attendees had waited for three days for this and now were rewarded, although there were not a lot of surprises in his remarks.
As was the case throughout, Obama received only weak mention and less than exciting response then as well from the crowd. Bibi made a point to emphasize Kerry’s tireless efforts on the peace process which the Prime Minister did not bad mouth at all. In fact, like the leading Israeli business leaders who spoke on Monday, Yossi Vardi and Ofra Strauss, who were clearly supportive of the peace process. the Prime Minister, sadly, actually had to push the audience to clap in response to his own support for the peace talks.
Not surprisingly, Bibi alluded to the external, anti-Israel crowd which is arrayed against its success, but never mentioned any of political forces within Israel who also oppose any agreement. Between the lines one sensed that Netanyahu must have given the White House some assurances that Israel would not let Kerry’s negotiations break down at the end of April; although there was hardly any guarantee as to what kind of concessions Israel was ready to make to help sustain the process; nor was there any sense of what demands the Palestinians may make to sustain them.
This audience was tepid at best in their feelings for the President. They could barely applaud mention of his name while Senator McCain continues to have a strong following at AIPAC. On the other hand, it was curious that one sensed a weaker participation overall on the part of Republican figures at the convention. One wondered if any of that is a function of the tea party wing of the GOP having a clear isolationist tendency.
In addition to AIPAC’s changing, aging demographics and the increased participation of the religious Zionist community, there is reason to be concerned about the 25-40 year group. They are no longer looking for the camp/college reunion experience; or are seeking to reconnect to their Birthright experience; or looking for a Jewish mate. As the Pew study confirmed, these young people, for whose parents AIPAC was/is their synagogue are now intermarrying in droves and many will slowly give up AIPAC and Israel too.
AIPAC’s policy conference has become so large that it can no longer run a banquet, feed everyone, and have the big impressive sessions that were their hallmark. Without the keynote addresses and instead of the awesome, impressive roll-call of Members of Congress, there are more elite donor groups which receive private briefings and attention based on their level of giving. The staggering imagine of all the Members in one room, and the political education and contacts that were made at these dinners and receptions, are reserved for the heavy rollers and community leaders; not for the rank and file.