Crowds at the AIPAC conference 390.
(photo credit: Gil Shefler)
WASHINGTON – The American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual gathering
here, which came to a close on Tuesday, broke several of its own records this
Some 14,000 people – an all-time high – attended the event where
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres, US President Barack
Obama and a string of other senior Israeli and American politicians spoke. But
has the influential Israel lobby group’s annual conference grown too big?
Despite the dedicated work of a small army of ushers and security staff there
were persistent complaints throughout the three-day event of endless queues,
sometimes up to three hours long; unpalatable and pricey food and a less personal
atmosphere than previous years.
“I waited in line three hours last
night,” said a PR person for a major Jewish organization.
“Next year I’m
coming as press.”
Martin and Janice Eckstein of Upland, California, have
attended five AIPAC conferences before, but this year they felt the facility was
overwhelmed by the crowds.
“It took very long to get it but I think the
nice thing was there was no pushing or shoving and we made friends standing in
line,” said Martin Eckstein. “But we did miss part of the program, which was
AIPAC’s spokesmen also struggled to cope with the
unprecedented attention the event received from the press. A response from its
press relations office for this article, for instance, was unavailable at the
time of print. Nonetheless, whatever inconveniences attendants may have
experienced at the gathering, an anecdotal survey indicated most were more than
happy to put up with them.
Isaac Shteremberg of Florida said showing his
support for Israel was more important than any temporary discomfort.
doesn’t matter waiting in line because we are 13,000 strong,” he said. “And
maybe next year we will be stronger than this.”
Many of those who
complained also said they understood the organizers’ difficulties in managing
such huge crowds.
Despite the occasional inconveniences they experienced
this year, the Ecksteins said they had already bought a ticket to attend the
conference in 2013.
“I’ve been to dozens and dozens of Jewish conferences
for almost 40 years – the Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly
is about 2,000, 3,000 people each year,” said Jonathan Wolf of Evanston,
Illinois, an activist who will soon launch BlueJew.com, a Jewish pro-Obama
Website. “I’ve never been to one remotely this vast.”