From moderating panel discussions to honoring a local dynamo who helped build AIPAC from the ground up, the Bay Area contingent made its presence felt at this year’s AIPAC Policy Conference. The March 4-6 event, held in Washington, D.C., impressed attendees with its emphasis on inclusion and bipartisanship.
Recent polls show an ever-widening gap in support for Israel between Republicans and Democrats.
“No question these are partisan times,” said Lafayette resident Jonathan Wornick, who is Northern California AIPAC’s chairman. “For anyone who cares about Israel, it’s deeply important that our cause for Israel’s existence remain bipartisan. This conference spent a lot of time and effort trying to show Democrats in the community and the larger community that being pro-Israel is a very comfortable place if you’re a progressive.”
Rabbi Mark Bloom brought along 20 congregants from Oakland’s Temple Beth Abraham, where he is senior rabbi. He, too, was struck by the effort to make support for Israel a bipartisan issue once again.
“A lot of the AIPAC constituency is getting more conservative, or at least the volume is louder,” Bloom said. “So [AIPAC] made a very concerted effort to have lots of progressives on stage, and emphasize bipartisanship.”
That bipartisanship showed itself during a memorial to Naomi Lauter, a San Francisco native and former AIPAC leader who died last year. Honoring her on stage were Bay Area heavy hitters Congresswoman and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi; former AIPAC president Amy Friedkin; Jewish Family and Children’s Services executive director Anita Friedman; and philanthropist Roselyne “Cissie” Swig.
Pelosi choked up remembering Lauter, a close friend for decades.
“When my family moved to San Francisco in 1969, Naomi was the first friend I made,” she said. “We were neighbors who bonded over our kids… my family would go to her house for Seder… Naomi knew what you were capable of accomplishing long before you knew it yourself.”
Wornick appreciated that moment, along with other presentations, many of which spanned the political spectrum. He said he was impressed that at the AIPAC conference he could find “Second Amendment fanatics” and “pacifists who want to confiscate guns” sitting side by side engaged in civil conversation.
“We are the model to prove you can have lovely, cordial relationships with people with whom you can have vast differences of opinion,” Wornick said. “In AIPAC the pro-Israel cause brings people together with widely divergent political views.”
South Bay resident Daniel Frankenstein, a managing partner with Janvest, which invests in Israeli start-ups, attended the conference and conducted an on-stage interview with Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat about “Israel’s technology ecosystem and the role Jerusalem is playing in Israel’s economic story.
He said he felt “great optimism as Israel continues to lead all other nations, aside from the U.S., in global financing for start-ups. Israeli companies are not only changing the landscape of the U.S. as more than 1,100 Israeli companies are now domiciled in the U.S., but also around the Middle East as economic relationships have the chance to create new political realities.”
Though AIPAC conferences are usually ebullient affairs, Bloom noted many attendees he talked to were worried about the possibility of a looming war with the terrorist organization Hezbollah, based in Lebanon. Many experts believe if there is to be a next war for Israel, it will come from the north. “It may not be imminent, but it may be inevitable,” he said.
Wornick agreed, saying people he spoke with at AIPAC are “deeply concerned that the next war is likely to be in the north, and what will be Iran’s role in that.”
Despite that cautionary note, Bloom had a splendid time at the conference. “It’s always an amazing time to be out of the Bay Area bubble,” he said, “and in a pro-Israel bubble.”