More than 13,000 delegates to the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) descended on Washington this week.
AIPAC, a lobby organization with no equal in American politics, had assembled its usual list of high-profile political leaders to address the delegates.
US President Barak Obama was not among the speakers. He had a good excuse. The president is up to his neck in what Washington calls,"sequestration," a federal budget agreement that will bring pain to American citizens.
AIPAC does not want that pain to involve anything related to Israel's "security."
And so it came to pass that two pro-Israel Florida lawmakers -- Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (shown above), a Republican, and Ted Deutch, a Democrat -- introduced a bill in the House of Representatives just in time for delegates to deliver copies of the bill to congressional offices during AIPAC's Washington lobby week.
The Ros-Lehtnen/Deutch bill, if passed, would designate Israel as a "major strategic ally," a one-of-a-kind label. JTC, a Jewish news agency, explains:
"The legislation enshrines much that is already in existence, including $3.1 billion in annual defense assistance to Israel and missile cooperation programs. But the redundancy is precisely the point.
"At a time when the president and Congress are considering how best to distribute across-the-board 8.5 percent spending cuts, AIPAC wants Congress to keep its funding for Israel as is.
"Ester Kurz, AIPAC's top congressional lobbyist, told the activists just before they headed for the Hill that 'despite growing budget pressure, it is critical that Congress fully funds this aid.' She cited 'the growing instability in the region and the mounting threats on Israel's borders.'"
AIPAC lobbyists were not the only messengers visiting congressional offices this week. Advocates for US groups certain to feel the pain of the spending cuts were described by Anna Simonton in a blog posting for Waging Non-Violence:
"To counter the influx of pro-Israel lobbyists attending AIPAC's annual conference, a much smaller number of people organized by the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation and Code Pink will visit members of Congress with a simple message: 'If you aren't saving Head Start, don't save Iron Dome.'"
Head Start is "a federal program that promotes the school readiness of children ages birth to five from low-income families by enhancing their cognitive, social, and emotional development." It has a proven track record of support for preschool children.
The Iron Dome is a military project designed to make Israel invulnerable to air attacks. It is touted as highly successful. Richard Silverstein begs to differ in his posting, "Iron Dome System Failed Miserably."
Anna Simonton writes that the Ros-Lehtinen/Deutch bill, which names Israel as a "major strategic ally" of the United States, would be "a designation bereft of actual legal meaning, but powerful in that it could distinguish Israel from all other recipients of foreign aid and thereby spare it the chopping block. Israel receives upwards of $3 billion of American taxpayers' money every year, more than any other country except Afghanistan."
End the Occupation and CodePink are part of a coalition of groups that organized Expose AIPAC, an umbrella organization which conducted a series of events, prior to, and during, the AIPAC conference, starting with a day of workshops on Saturday which concluded with a keynote address by Phyllis Bennis, a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and writer for The Nation.