There are two major take-a-ways from the policy conference. First is the remarkable turnout, which continues to grow every year. With 2000 students—not all of whom were on spring break–, the 13,000 attendees definitely make an impression among even the most jaundiced of Washington cynics. What is fascinating is the extent to which the attendees are now clearly grouped according to donation levels. This grows annually to the point that the big giver clubs get the exposure to the nitty-gritty part of politics as opposed to the more academic and intellectual portions. While everyone engages in lobbying, for some it is strictly numbers (size of the group) while in other cases it is carrying the actual message. It is not strictly learning how to make an articulate argument, rather it is if you give enough you will be given the sexy job of actually personally interacting with Members—one on one. For Members of Congress who recognize this, there also is a campaign contribution pay-off for them as well.
The other curious reality is that when Israel is not in immediate crisis and the Washington agenda is fairly routine, the AIPAC attendees almost seem bored. While it is a good boredom for Israel, for this large crowd it is hard to maintain their attention and focus. With no election looming even the attraction of political, social, and religious stars does not pump up the audience.
It turns out that the ads cited yesterday sponsored by the Jewish Voice for Peace (ADVAZ) are being displayed in 100 billboard ads in major D.C. Metro stations for two weeks. ADVAZ reports to have a national membership of 125,000 with 35 chapters nation-wide. From the names on their directorate they are clearly well financed and have prominent national leaders on their board. While their overall impact is minimal, it is clear that the breadth, the character, and timing of the campaign is well designed for maximum effect on the general public, challenging the cogency of AIPAC’s message.