During Friday’s final plenary session at the Policy Conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), thousands of pro-Israel activists were addressed by Olga Miranda, president of Local 87 of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). In the course of describing her pro-Israel views, she led the crowd in a chant of “¡Si, se puede!” (“Yes we can!”), and asked those present to support immigration reform in the U.S.
Those sentiments were more partisan than anything the conference had heard over three days. And the SEIU is is one of the most partisan organizations in American politics, serving as the Obama administration’s front line in pushing Obamacare and other policies. Occasionally, SEIU leaders have aligned with the most radical of the anti-Israel organizations: in fact, Local 73 was investigated in 2010 for ties to the Hamas terror organization.
Yet Miranda was onstage to testify about how she had changed her mind about Israel, especially once she visited Israel and saw the other side of the story. “Israel is the only thing I ever admitted to being wrong about in fourteen years,” she said. She singled out Israel’s immigration policy: “In Israel, immigrants are humans” (as opposed to the U.S., where they are “criminalized for wanting to provide food for their families.”)
The audience gave her speech a standing ovation. Miranda’s was a timely message about the power of persuasion for activists about to embark on visits to Capitol Hill, and perhaps nervous about convincing skeptical members of Congress to hold firm on Iran.
It was also a message to Israel’s left-wing critics, some of whom led protests on day one of the conference (and at least one of whom was arrested a day later in Egypt for trying to enter Gaza).
Yet AIPAC is hardly doing as much to court conservatives. There were no speakers from the Tea Party–the SEIU’s foe in the political trenches–to talk about what Israel meant to members of that movement, for example.
That may reflect a subtle political bias that persists in spite of AIPAC’s strenuous efforts at bipartisanship. More importantly, it reflects the undeniable political reality today that conservative support for Israel is not in doubt.
The confrontational approach of the Obama administration towards Israel has presented a unique challenge for AIPAC over the past five years. Those Democrats who addressed the conference–Sens. Chris Coons, Charles Schumer, and Bob Menendez, plus Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew–were at pains to assure the activists of their party’s support.
AIPAC is trying to help them do so, without alienating the conservatives in its midst.