Thu 3 Apr, 2003 10:03 am
For Israel Lobby Group, War Is Topic A, Quietly
At Meeting, Jerusalem's Contributions Are Highlighted
By Dana Milbank - Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 1, 2003; Page A25
This week's meeting in Washington of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee has put a spotlight on the Bush administration's delicate dance with Israel and the Jewish state's friends over the attack on Iraq.
Officially, Israel is not one of the 49 countries the administration has identified as members of the "Coalition of the Willing." Officially, AIPAC had no position on the merits of a war against Iraq before it started. Officially, Iraq is not the subject of the pro-Israel lobby's three-day meeting here.
Now, for the unofficial part:
As delegates to the AIPAC meeting were heading to town, the group put a headline on its Web site proclaiming: "Israeli Weapons Utilized By Coalition Forces Against Iraq." The item featured a photograph of a drone with the caption saying the "Israeli-made Hunter Unmanned Aerial Vehicle" is being used "by U.S. soldiers in Iraq."
At an AIPAC session on Sunday night, Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom proclaimed in a speech praising Secretary of State Colin L. Powell: "We have followed with great admiration your efforts to mobilize the international community to disarm Iraq and bring democracy and peace to the region, to the Middle East and to the rest of the world. Just imagine, Mr. Secretary, how much easier it would have been if Israel had been a member of the Security Council."
A parade of top Bush administration officials -- Powell, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, political director Kenneth Mehlman, Undersecretary of State John R. Bolton and Assistant Secretary of State William Burns -- appeared before the AIPAC audience. The officials won sustained cheers for their jabs at European opponents of war in Iraq, and their tough remarks aimed at two perennial foes of Israel, Syria and Iran.
The AIPAC meeting -- attended by about 5,000 people, including half the Senate and a third of the House -- was planned long before it became clear it would coincide with hostilities in Iraq. And organizers tried to play down the emphasis on Iraq, dedicating only one of its 12 "forums" during the conference to the war. "This is not about Iraq," said AIPAC spokesman Josh Block. "This is about going to Congress and lobbying for the Israeli aid package."
The reason for the sensitivity is clear. Internationally, anything that links Israel to the current war could alienate friendly Arab states by suggesting that the war is driven by Israel's interests. At home, the embrace of the war by an organization of influential Jews could fuel anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, though polls have indicated that American Jews are less likely to support the Iraq war than white Americans of other faiths.
Despite the meeting's script, AIPAC attendees found the subject of the war impossible to avoid. Powell talked about Iraq. Rice talked about Iraq. In the hallways, everyone talked about Iraq.
"If a widget maker were having a convention, the talk would be about Iraq," said Nathan Diament, a lobbyist for orthodox Jews and a participant in the conference. "It's not what this meeting is all about, but it's the context."
When Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Leon S. Fuerth, the former foreign policy adviser to Al Gore, sat down with Burns for a session yesterday titled "the Future of the Middle East," the subject was almost exclusively Iraq.
Kirk said the war would be "longer and more expensive than we think," and noted efforts the U.S. military had made to defend Israel. When Fuerth wondered whether there is too much "happy optimism" about Arab
democracy, Kirk won cheers and an ovation for rejecting the charge. "God willing, we're going to have a great victory in Iraq," said AIPAC's Steve Rosen, the moderator.
AIPAC also promoted Israel's involvement in the Iraq war, though it has not been acknowledged by the administration. Citing the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, AIPAC reported on its Web site that the U.S. Army
is using Israeli-made Hunter and Pioneer drones, computer systems and
Popeye air-to-surface missiles. AIPAC and Israeli officials at the
conference said that while such weapons are being used in the Iraq war, they were not provided by Israel specifically for it.
Eyal Arad, who has served as a campaign adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said in an interview at the conference yesterday that his country, which attacked an Iraqi nuclear facility two decades ago, was pleased to honor the Bush administration's request to keep a low profile in this conflict.
"We don't need to shout, 'We're pro-American,' " Arad said. "We are."
The Bush administration was somewhat ambivalent about tying itself to
AIPAC and Israel. Though it sent several officials to the meeting with strong pro-Israel messages, there were efforts to keep things low-key. The White House insisted that yesterday's speech by Rice, though delivered to a room with 2,000 people, be "off the record."
"I'm not making this up!" AIPAC's Rosen said to his guests while serving as host at a later session. "All these people were part of an off-the-record discussion."
© 2003 The Washington Post Company