Leading pro-Israel lobby goes online for conference

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Those who are unable to attend next week's American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference can pull up a chair, log on to their computers and enjoy a virtual front-row seat.

"If you are in Zimbabwe or Jerusalem or Amman or Tennessee, if you have certain equipment, you will be able to watch live video of the conference on the Internet," said Toby Dershowitz, director of media relations for the pro-Israel lobby.

New technology will allow computer users to receive real-time video and audio of the conference, to be held April 28 to 30 in Washington, D.C.

"Creative use of the new and cutting-edge technologies have the potential to revolutionize grass-roots activism," Dershowitz said.

"AIPAC's efforts are aimed at ensuring [that] the pro-Israel community can take full advantage of this remarkable and user-friendly medium."

The AIPAC conference will mark the first time new Israeli technology called VDOLive — developed by the Israel and California-based VDOnet corporation — has been used to transmit a major conference over the Internet.

In August, the same technology will be used to bring computer users live footage of the Democratic National Convention.

AIPAC launched itself into cyberspace in January with a World Wide Web site called the CyberCenter for Pro-Israel Activism. At the site, users can gain access to policy briefs and updates on legislation affecting U.S.-Israel relations.

Those using the Web site — located at http://www.aipac.org — can also take action through tools provided online.

Clicking on any state in the map of the United States brings a message from an AIPAC regional director, information about how much foreign aid is spent in that state and the e-mail addresses for elected officials.

Similar interactive features will be available during the AIPAC policy conference.

While those attending the conference head to Capitol Hill for a lobbying day April 30, computer users will hold their own online advocacy day.

Through AIPAC's Web site, they will be able to e-mail elected officials and sign an online declaration in support of the U.S.-Israeli relationship.

In addition, the conference will feature a town hall session with architects of the Middle East peace process, who will field questions from the audience as well as from those watching over the Internet.

A plan to link three schools viewing the broadcast in Israel, Jordan and the United States is also in the works. Using innovative technology, students will have a chance to communicate with one another over the Internet and discuss issues raised at the conference.

Footage of the conference will be stored on AIPAC's Web site so that people can access it long after the gathering ends.

Although AIPAC recognizes that not all cybersurfers have the system requirements to view the conference online, officials say they have been anxious to lead the way in exploring applications for the new technology.

More than 43 percent of American Jewish households have computers and of these, 40 percent have access to the Internet, according to the 1995 Jewish Outreach Institute/National Family Opinion Survey.

Computer users can find instructions to access the conference on AIPAC's Web page.