AIPAC crowd breaks records, but has confab grown too big?

Participants complain of long waits and subpar food, but most taking part in massive event say it’s worth it.

Crowds at the AIPAC conference 390 (photo credit: Gil Shefler)
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 year.
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 disappointing.”
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.
“It 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, a Jewish pro-Obama Website. “I’ve never been to one remotely this vast.”