For Israel Lobby Group, AIPAC, War Is Topic A, Quietly
By Dana Milbank
The Washington Post
1 April 2003
This week's meeting in Washington of the American Israel Public
Affairs Committee (AIPAC) 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
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
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
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 honour 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
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."