The American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) barred journalists from a panel on press freedom at its annual policy conference in Washington, DC, on Sunday.
AIPAC is one of the most influential pro-Israel organizations in the United States.
Allison K. Sommer, a journalist for the left-wing Israeli daily newspaper Ha’aretz, tweeted Sunday that AIPAC’s panel on press freedom — on which she spoke — was closed to the media. She added the hashtag: “#irony”.
— Allison K. Sommer (@AllisonKSommer) March 4, 2018
Ron Kampeas, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency bureau chief for Washington, DC, retweeted Sommer’s news, and agreed with her: “Barring press from hearing reporters is as weird as it gets. But also: in previous years press was barred from those sessions Aipac attendees paid extra for. But we got into all basic fee sessions except for lobbyist training. This is new.”
Left-wing critics of Israel, and anti-Israel activists, tore into AIPAC on Twitter. Even Israeli journalists complained:
We do not understand why @AIPAC restricts the media from many sessions.
If anything, allow the Israeli press which has more security clearance than those who work at #AIPAC2018. We serve in #IDF, consult the government.
Why ban the Israeli press as #AIPAC members use Twitter??? https://t.co/c93E8BpdrV
— Israel News Agency (@Israel_News_INA) March 4, 2018
Other panelists at the press freedom event included Haviv Rettig Gur of the Times of Israel and Ben Dror Yemini of the Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot, with Ranin Boulos of i24, an Israeli TV channel, moderating the discussion. (Update: Boulos did not attend.)
Ahead of the conference, the New Jersey Jewish News announced that it would not be covering the event precisely because of AIPAC’s treatment of journalists. In an editorial, the paper declared:
AIPAC has a long history of being wary of, and less than friendly toward, the press. Members of the media enter the AIPAC convention through a separate entrance and must be accompanied by staff to proceed to the main area where sessions are held — and, at times, even accompanied to the rest rooms. Such treatment doesn’t foster trust and mutual respect. AIPAC officials say the press is overly critical in its coverage of the lobby; maybe there’s a reason that goes beyond political ideology. Trying a more open approach could help.
AIPAC’s treatment of the media was even more ironic, given that the organization seemed eager to use this year’s conference to appeal specifically to “progressives,” as Democrat support for Israel continues to wane.
As Kampeas noted, AIPAC president Mort Friedman pleaded with the left-wingers in the main plenary:
The progressive narrative for Israel is just as compelling and critical as the conservative one … There are very real forces trying to pull you out of this hall and out of this movement and we cannot let that happen — we will not let that happen!
People are angry and hurting and frustrated and fed up … There’s an impulse to walk away from politics to retreat to partisan corners and to demonize the other side. We cannot let those impulses win the day.
AIPAC could not be reached for comment, despite attempts by Breitbart News to reach a media spokesperson.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He was named to Forward’s 50 “most influential” Jews in 2017. He is the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.