Aipac Launches String of Events for Pro-israel Convention-goers

The Democratic National Convention had not yet begun, but the American Israel Public Affairs Committee was already well on its way this weekend to bringing pro-Israel delegates together for a series of receptions, briefings and strategy sessions.

AIPAC President David Steiner described the events as part of a “weeklong celebration of the pro-Israel community’s commitment to the Democratic community and its leadership.”

On Sunday, Hillary Clinton gave the keynote remarks at an afternoon reception at the South Street Seaport, where convention delegates and AIPAC activists mingled with 70 members of Congress and countless state and local officials from around the country.

The wife of the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee told the friends of Israel that “this is a watershed election,” and stressed the special U.S. commitment to Israel embodied in her party’s platform.

The night before, the pro-Israel lobby brought together a more select group of its own leaders, top Democrats and Clinton campaign aides at a reception held amid paintings by Mary Cassatt and other American Impressionists at a posh gallery on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.

It was the kickoff for a range of Jewish-related events here this week that will include briefings for delegates by AIPAC, the National Jewish Democratic Council, Americans for Peace Now and Tikkun magazine, not to mention a kosher pastrami reception sponsored by the New York Jewish Community Relations Council and UJA-Federation.

And those not on the “A list” for these events will surely not be able to miss the Orthodox men handing out flyers for the Hasidic-run 47th Street Photo electronics store.

COMING BACK HOME TO PARTY

AIPAC estimates that at least one in 10 delegates to the convention is Jewish, double the percentage of four years ago.

And thanks to greater activism at the state level, where grass-roots organizers hammered out the planks of the party platform, it seems certain that, unlike four years ago, the floor will not be open to critics of the party’s pro-Israel platform.

It was a dozen years ago that Ronald Reagan targeted Jimmy Carter’s Israel policies to unravel the traditional Jewish-Democratic alliance. And just four years ago, AIPAC’s executive director, Tom Dine, was gushing over the pro-Israel planks of the Republican platform as the finest ever.

This year, the Democrats have come to New York with the expectation that the Jews are coming home to the party of Franklin Roosevelt and Hubert Humphrey.

Among those welcoming AIPAC back Saturday night was Ron Brown, chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

He spoke of the “special relationships” linking the United States and Israel, the Democratic Party to AIPAC, and him personally to AIPAC and the Jewish community.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said simply, “This is one senator you won’t have to worry about.” Also appearing was Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and former San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein, who is the Democratic nominee for one of two open California Senate seats.

Israeli Ambassador Zalman Shoval was there as well. “I am not endorsing any political candidate,” he said. “But I heard today (Palestinian spokeswoman Hanan) Ashrawi endorsed Bush. It’s a fact.”

There was no hint intended, he insisted.

INTERFAITH SERVICE FOR CHILDREN

The Jewish role in the traditionally broad liberal alliance that transcends the politics of pro-Israel activism was manifest Sunday at an interfaith service sponsored by the Children’s Defense Fund.

Rabbi Jerome Epstein, executive vice president of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, and Rabbi Avi Magid of the Woodlands Community Temple of White Plains, N.Y., took part in the interreligious, interracial service.

They prayed “for the millions of children who are living in poverty,” and for “our nation’s leaders, that they might make children the nation’s highest priority.”

A similar service is planned for the Republican National Convention in Houston.

The interfaith services are billed as precursors to a “National Observance of Children’s Sabbaths,” to focus the nation’s attention on children’s issues on the weekend of Oct. 16-18.

Both the United Synagogue and the Reform movement’s Union of American Hebrew Congregations are taking part in the observance.

(Cynthia Mann of State News Service contributed to this report.)

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