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Asked about such issues, Lewis responded: “On every value that I care about, Israel is on the right path. It doesn’t mean that Israel is perfect, but I don’t know of any perfect country, including mine.”
Engaging with liberals is part of the big tent strategy that AIPAC has adopted in recent years. The group increased its activity among minority groups as well as inside the Jewish community, where it ramped up its outreach to Orthodox activists. The policy requires, however, some balancing, since the progressive values praised at one corner of the big tent in order to appeal to liberals can turn away other constituencies that AIPAC relies on for support, such as Christian evangelicals, conservative Republicans and Orthodox Jews.
Part of the effort to broaden AIPAC’s outreach involves making the organization itself more diverse. Speaking at the opening plenary session, AIPAC’s outgoing president, Michael Kassen, talked about the need to reach beyond the lobby’s base, adding that he was “thrilled each year that AIPAC looks more like America.”
The remark could come as a surprise for those looking through the huge conference hall made up primarily of white Jewish men and women. In another attempt to drive home the point, conference organizers put together a session aimed at showcasing the diversity within AIPAC’S own staff. Some 20 participants, barely filling the first rows of the large meeting room in which the session was held, were presented with four young staff members, each telling his or her own story: a Mormon from Pennsylvania, an evangelical woman, a gay African-American and a Christian immigrant from Ukraine. It may not have been the subtlest way to tell the story of AIPAC’s diversity, but it demonstrated the lobby’s desire to keep in tune with political trends.
How effective is AIPAC’s messaging to liberal Democrats?
Mellman said that reaching out to communities based on their own concerns is an important way of engaging, whether it relates to LGBT rights, access to health care or immigration. But, he noted, “You also need to talk about the issue itself,” referring to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “Talking about only one part is not enough.”