Over the next three days, journalist Simona Fuma will be guest blogging from the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, D.C. This is the largest gathering of the American-Israel political action committee, where the organizationâ€™s direction is decided, steered, and reengineered.
Despite being an AIPAC critic, public affairs strategist Dan Fleshler acknowledges that â€œthere is no organization or company in America that turns out so many volunteers for a dayâ€™s worth of congressional lobbying, each and every year.â€ When I boarded one of four lobbying buses for Illinois delegates, deputy Midwest director Samantha Margolis thanked everyone for coming and told us that what we are about to do â€œis the most important part of why youâ€™re here.â€
After chatting for a while with my fellow passengers, we were off!â€”trailing behind our police escort blaring sirensâ€”as if we were a head of state or a convention of Saudi oil barons. I never got to the bottom of why AIPACers get this VIP treatmentâ€”some people I asked thought it had to do with securityâ€”and then I noticed that journalist Dana Milbank addressed the issue in a 2005 column: â€œHow much clout does AIPAC have? Well, consider that during the pro-Israel lobbyâ€™s annual conference yesterday, a fleet of police cars, sirens wailing, blocked intersections and formed a motorcade carrying its conventioneersâ€”to lunch.â€
We arrive at a congressional office building and 200 AIPACers from Illinois file in to lobby their two Senators: Dick Durbin and Roland Burris, who was appointed to Obamaâ€™s vacant Senate seat by Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich under questionable circumstances. The lines outside the House office buildings are so long that one House intern tells me, â€œIâ€™ve never seen it like this.â€
And now I am in a bind. The AIPAC staffers were very adamant that I could only sit in on the lobbying session if I didnâ€™t write anything down and kept what was said â€œoff the record.â€ It seems silly, since any of the 200 people there could blog about what happened.