Washington — The many challenges facing Israel and its relations with the United States were not lost on participants of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee annual gathering in Washington.
The 12,000 delegates at the policy conference, which kicked off on Sunday, were inundated with speeches, meetings and reading material talking about the need to maintain foreign aid, fight against Iran’s nuclear ambitions and secure Israel in face of the deteriorating stability of its Arab neighbors.
A speech by AIPAC’s president, Michael Kassen, opened a window into the political challenges the lobby faces, those that have to do more with changing demography of the American electorate than with developments in the Middle East. Kassen reminded delegates about how the AIPAC system works, by engaging with elected officials beginning from the state level and until they make it to key positions in Washington.
“That formula worked,” he said, “and it still works.”
But, Kassen noted, it becomes harder to implement this formula when the face of Congress is changing in such a rapid pace. Important positions in congressional committees dealing with Israel, Kassen said, “are increasingly held by individuals with little foreign policy experience” and some, he added, have never visited Israel.
Furthermore, many new lawmakers voting on issues relating to Israel, have a “different life experience.” They are younger (just as many members, he said, were born after the Iran hostage crisis than those who remember it), and more diverse, with a growing percentage of non-white voters making up the American electorate.
“We must do more to keep pace with this rapid change,” Kessen said, adding that he is “thrilled” that “each year AIPAC looks more like America.”