I’m here at the AIPAC conference where Barack Obama is scheduled to address the more than 7,000 attendees within an hour, followed by Hillary Clinton. Obama will face somewhat of a skeptical crowd here, and for good reason. The candidate of choice for Israel haters from Hamas to Jimmy Carter, Obama has taken on a slew of anti-Israel advisors and has associated himself with some of the most prominent critics of Israel in America. (More here.) Furthermore, his willingness to meet unconditionally with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has denied the Holocaust and threatened to wipe Israel off of the map, as well as his opposition to declaring Iran’s Revolutionary Guard a terrorist group, does him no favors.
With all that said, I think the crowd will be respectful of Obama and greet him warmly — and here’s why. While some people have a perception of AIPAC as the hawkish pro-Israel group, the reality is a lot more complicated. The purpose of AIPAC is to foster strong ties between the U.S. and Israel and keep both Republicans and Democrats on their side, so its attitude is greatly impacted by who is in office. During the 1990s, they were tight with the Clinton Administration while it was pushing the Oslo peace process with Yasser Arafat, drawing criticism from hawks. In the post-9/11, Bush-Sharon environment, it became much more hawkish. Since Obama now has a good chance of becoming the next president, they want to keep him within the tent, and I’m sure most of the crowd will receive him well. But I’m curious to talk to some attendees after to see whether his speech actually calmed their concerns.
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