Washington — After many years of outreach to conservative evangelicals, the pro-Israel lobby in Washington, facing a liberal ascendance, is now striving to make the case for Israel as a cause for progressives.
At the recent annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, advocates of the organization explored strategies for capturing this constituency, largely by looking for ways, as Israeli diplomats put it, of presenting “Israel beyond the conflict” with the Palestinians.
In seeking to appeal to liberal Democrats prone in recent years to critical views of Israeli policies, the activists are depicting Israel as a progressive promised land where values that liberals can only dream of in the United States are already a reality. The AIPAC advocates cite specific issues, ranging from health care to gay rights to inclusion of minorities.
“We need to speak out more as progressives, not to let the other side own the issue of Israel,” said Ann Lewis, who served as a communications director for President Clinton.
At AIPAC’s Washington conference, which took place from March 2 to March 4, Lewis was among those challenging the notion that progressive Democrats are out of place in the pro-Israel camp — and not only at the conference. For the past three years, Lewis has led missions to Israel on behalf of AIPAC’s sister group, the American Israel Education Fund, in which she has tried to move liberal women closer to the pro-Israel camp.
Among Lewis’s guests on these trips have been Democratic political strategist Donna Brazile; Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards, who noted Israel’s advance on women’s health issues, and Heidi Heitkamp, a newly elected senator from North Dakota.