Six California congressional representatives, two potential Los Angeles mayoral candidates, and several other elected officials joined the two senators at the Warner Center Marriot Hotel. "It's All About Relationships," the daylong conference's appropriate title, focused on Jewish activist concerns -- both Mideast and local. The Jewish Federation/Valley Alliance and the Warner Center Marriot co-sponsored the conference and carefully planned the packed workshops.
"We don't have to calculate the costs of war, but peace is not cheap either," said Valley Congressman Brad Sherman setting the day's principal theme. "We're talking D-D-I-B. That's double digits in the billions." The good news, added fellow Congressman Howard Berman later in the conference, remains that this will be a global effort with contributions from "Europe, Japan, even Arab states, Australia, and others in a multi-year effort."
If Mideast peace treaties are signed, the battleground will shift to collecting votes in the U.S. Congress. "It's going to be a hell of a ride," observed Berman. "This is the mother of all AIPAC battles and the greatest crisis facing American Jews." Despite the cost, Berman emphasized "peace is cheaper than war. The six week Gulf War cost $65 billion."
Persuading the American public and Congress to subsidize any Mideast treaty will not be easy -- especially given continuing tensions between the White House and Republican party lines on the direction of America's foreign policy. And that of course is one of AIPAC's functions--to present the facts, make the argument, convince the Congress of Israel's valid needs. Senator Craig, a prominent Republican has voted against foreign aid seven out of nine years in the Senate.
Craig backed foreign aid last year after working with AIPAC lobbyists to "reshape foreign aid for strategic aid so it works better for the American people in the long-term."
"Washington did not understand the importance of the Wye River accords," said David Gillette, AIPAC's senior lobbyist.
"Ultimately, Israel needs to know that its relationship with America is strong enough to take risks for peace," said Gillette. "Israel's relationship with America also needs to be strong enough to turn away a bad deal."
Senator Bingaman, a sponsor of legislation to prevent the commercial selling of high-tech resolutions of Israel, emphasized "that in many ways Israeli's security interests are synonymous with America's."
Several speakers also urged audience members to attend AIPAC national policy conference, May 21-23, in Washington D.C. Barak will address nearly 2,000 pro-Israel leaders and hundreds of student activists from 50 states. President Clinton and Vice-President Gore have both addressed the conference in the past.