The Problem with the AIPAC Conference

By Jeffrey Goldberg

If you're trying to figure out why J Street, the left-wing pro-Israel group, came into existence, just take a look at the schedule for this week's AIPAC conference, at the Washington Convention Center. The list of speakers, apart from the usual suspects (Bibi, Hillary, and the like) includes analysts and advocates from such organizations as the American Enterprise Institute, the Hudson Institute, the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, CAMERA, and so on -- the full range of conservative-leaning think tanks. It is true that the convention includes a few analysts not associated with Republican Party views on the Middle East -- Wendy Chamberlin from the Middle East Institute, Brian Katulis from the Center for American Progress -- but these two are talking about Pakistan, which is not a core issue of the Middle East conflict. And the estimable Ghaith al-Omari, of the American Task Force on Palestine, will be there, on a panel called "Prognosticating Peace," which is described in the program guide as follows: 

Since becoming Israel's prime minister last year, Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly declared his desire to reach peace with the Palestinian Authority (PA). However, PA President Mahmoud Abbas has refused to enter into direct talks with Netanyahu until Israel meets a series of preconditions. What, then, is the future of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations?

Have fun, Ghaith!

I am not writing this in order to knock such speakers as Robert Kagan, Andrea Levin, Elliott Abrams,  Dan Senor (who just wrote a great book about Israel)  Bret Stephens, Bill Kristol, and Alan Dershowitz. I agree with much of what many of these people have to say about the Middle East (and it is true that from time to time I myself have been accused of being a bloody-minded neocon!) But the dearth of speakers who approach the most contentious issues of the Middle East from a left-Zionist perspective is noticeable. Most American Jews voted for Obama; most American Jews are liberal; and most American Jews understand the difference between the legitimate security needs of the State of Israel and the theological, political and economic needs of the small minority of Israelis who have settled the West Bank. So would it hurt to bring in speakers from the Meretz Party, from the kibbutz movement, from the New Israel Fund, from the Reform Movement, so that the AIPAC attendees could hear for themselves the views of Zionists who disagree with the policies of Israel's right-wing parties?

Yes, I suppose it would hurt. AIPAC is interested mainly in presenting an oversimplified vision of the Middle East to its members. If this wasn't the case, why would the conference feature this session:

POLITICS & ACTIVISM - Media Matters: Is Israel Treated Unfairly in the Press?
With the international media scrutinizing Israel's every move, the country faces enormous challenges in telling its true story to the world. Learn from four top communications specialists about Israel's place in the eye of the international media.

Featuring
Mr. Josh Block
Spokesman, AIPAC
Mr. Jonathan Carey
Founder and Executive Director, BlueStar
Ms. Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi
Founder and President, The Israel Project
Ms. Andrea Levin
Executive Director, CAMERA 

What was the question? Is Israel being treated unfairly in the press? Let me prognosticate here and suggest that this panel will, after much thought and deliberation, reach the conclusion that, yes, Israel is being treated unfairly in the press. Josh Block is a great guy, but really, wouldn't it be more interesting to listen to, say, three Jerusalem bureau chiefs of three international media organizations talking about how they do their jobs, than to a line-up of people who are paid to tell you that Israel has never done anything wrong (including during Joe Biden's recent trip).

J Street sometimes makes me crazy, but let me just this: It owns a big tent, bigger than AIPAC's. After all, J Street did invite Michael Oren to speak at its convention.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2010/03/the-problem-with-the-aipac-conference/37732/