WASHINGTON – The annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) will open on Sunday at the Walter E. Convention Center in the nation’s capital. Some 18,000 people are expected to attend, including 4,000 students, making it the highest attendance ever.
Vice President Mike Pence will be the keynote speaker this year. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman will address the conference as well.
This year’s policy conference is taking place during two significant political events both in the US and in Israel: Super Tuesday in 14 states and general elections in Israel that will take place on Monday. This time frame put AIPAC between a rock and a hard place: no senior Israeli politician will attend the event – but both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz will send a video speech.
Similarly, presidential hopefuls will have a hard time making it to the conference. AIPAC confirmed on Friday that former vice president Joe Biden and Senator Amy Klobuchar are expected to send a video speech as well. The only candidate expected to speak live at the conference is former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg. Both front-runner Senator Bernie Sanders and Senator Elizabeth Warren made it clear they are not interested in speaking at AIPAC, triggering a controversy about the relationship between the progressive side of the Democratic Party and the pro-Israel lobby.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer will speak live at the conference, as well as their respective House colleagues, Rep. Steny Hoyer and Rep. Kevin McCarthy. A few foreign leaders will attend the event, as well: Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz; Colombian President Iván Duque Márquez; Félix Antoine Tshisekedi-Tshilombo, president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo; Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid; Alejandro Giammattei, president of the Republic of Guatemala and Aleksandar Vučić, president of the Republic of Serbia.
Hosting 18,000 people is a complicated logistic operation. According to an AIPAC press release, a culinary team of 300 chefs will be in charge of the food at the convention. The culinary team will serve during the three days of the convention some 10,000 hardboiled eggs, 25,000 kosher hot dogs, 37,500 bagels, 1,200 lbs. of beef short ribs 16,000 falafel balls and 3,600 pounds of shwarma.