AIPAC Policy Conference Is Real (Or: I Ran to DC)

(Liya Rechtman)– “If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, then we all know that it’s a –“

“A DUCK!” shouted the 14,000 (that’s right, thousand) person audience with glee.

“A nuclear duck!” Responded Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel. “And it’s time the world started calling a duck a duck.” By which he meant, as the crowd could easily surmise on our third day of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference, that we, America and Israel, should take military action against Iran to prevent them from gaining “nuclear capabilities.”

The cameras positioned above us panned the crowd and we could all watch as the gigantic room in the Washington DC convention centered all stood as one, roaring in applause. The camera zoomed in on front section, older white men and their surprisingly WASP-y looking wives, only interrupted by the occasional black preacher. The projector switched cameras and now showed the Campus Delegates section shoved away into the farthest corner of the small room. If they had panned from stage, we wouldn’t have even been caught on film, no one would know that we were there. Nonetheless, the 1500 students, a group nearly as big as our whole college, stood clapping and whooping.

Yes, we had been in this room for almost four hours, told to sit tight while we waited for our beloved Netanyahu to take the stage. Not to mention that we had been in this convention center since 7am, that we were working off probably a combined 10 hours of sleep in the last three nights, and were subsisting off shitty sandwiches. Granted the AEPi (Jewish frat) boys were hammered, but the rest of us were keenly aware of our bodily needs and couldn’t care less, because Netanyahu was speaking for us, protecting our future. We felt empowered by the crowd, the overt displays of wealth and power that this conference had boasted, that we could read in the faces of older members. We were elated by the lectures we had been to all day, by watching Lieberman, Pelosi, Liz Cheney, Santorum, and Obama pander to us and our interests.

Netanyahu had to pause in his speech to allow people time to sit down and stop clapping. It took a while. This crowd was bloodthirsty. Their eyes were filled with memories of the 1967 war, which they saw as a crowning accomplishment of Israel.

And where did I stand?

The contrarian in me felt instinctively nervous conceding that such a large and riled up crowd could be right about anything.

Moreover, I thought back to Obama’s speech the day before. “I am prepared to do what needs to be done in Iran, whether that be diplomacy, economic sanctions [no response from audience, there was a touch of sadness in the President’s voice]… or using military force.” Are you surprised when I tell you that the crowd went crazy again? It was as if they hadn’t heard his speech until he started talking about the military.

The next morning, I heard the finer parts of the speech regurgitated by an older woman from Florida to Representative Olver’s aide, the congressman for the Amherst district. He had no idea what she meant when she said that Iran was a duck, but he reassured us, once he was finally able to get a word in to the slightly confused and impassioned group of AIPAC “lobbyists” who had arrived at his door, that he had been to Israel and didn’t want it to get blown up either.

The older woman didn’t seem to understand how to explain the situation better than: “It’s a duck! A nuclear duck! We have to stop Iran!”

I felt like I had taken something different from the speech. And the conference in general.

Yes, I learned a lot, and they did talk, in the four days I was in DC, about more than just Iran in Israel. I met, and spoke to for the first time in my life to peers that could articulately argue for conservative perspectives. I also met, and spent the whole conference, with really smart UMass kids (yes! Out of the Amherst bubble for 96 hours!!) I learned about human rights in Israel, Iran’s influence on Venezuela and the Mexican drug cartels, the Evangelical interest in Israel’s existence and the problems AEPi San Jose State is facing in becoming officially recognized on campus.

I also learned that I was a liberal. I know what you’re thinking she-bomb readers: ConstantLy, duh. You should have known that you were liberal!

And it’s not that I didn’t, but now I’m sure.

Growing up in Brooklyn and then moving to Amherst hasn’t exactly allowed me to have political pushback. At Amherst, my fight has been primarily feminist. Not much freethinking has been required of me to support Obama, or say that I am progressively pro-Israel. And yet here, for the first time in my life, I was in the political minority. I disagreed with a push for war with Iran and the talk of a preemptive strike. I wanted to talk about the two-state solution and the case for Palestinians and my issues with Israel’s domestic politics. (Like how my friend on Hillel faculty, the birthright recruiter, would not be able to marry a Jew in Israel because, although she was Bat Mitzvah, her mother is not Jewish. Or how while Rabbis are supposed to be paid salary by the State of Israel, my mother, who has been a Rabbi for over a decade, would not be paid, and has no clerical power, because she’s a woman.) I found myself the only one to disagree with the AIPAC statement that Jerusalem would have to remain unified in peace talks.

I didn’t disagree with everything, but the attitude I came at these issues with was, I think, inherently different than the perspective offered (provided?) to me at AIPAC.

Perhaps my next stop is the J. Street Conference, the liberal ideological opposite of AIPAC. Maybe the left will be my antidote to this feeling that I’m alone out here on my Israel politics. Stay tuned, my faithful (ha! Get it?) readers.

Constant Theme,
<3 ConstantLy