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AIPAC Summit in Philly for the Very First Time
The two-day event -- to be held here for the first time -- will feature appearances by American and Israeli politicians, including former Israeli Prime Minister and current Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
The Center City gathering will present briefings from policy experts on a range of issues, among them the inner workings of Congress, the latest developments in Israeli politics, sanctions against Iran for its nuclear program, and prospects for peace between Israel and her Middle Eastern neighbors.
The summit is only open to AIPAC members, but a communitywide event is taking place at 7 p.m. Monday, Oct. 29, at the Sheraton Philadelphia Center City Hotel. That event is free.
"The summit is designed to give AIPAC's top activists a firsthand look into the issues facing the region -- an opportunity to hear from our nation's top leaders and thinkers in an off-the-record and off-the-cuff environment," wrote AIPAC's Jennifer Cannata in an e-mail.
Several local AIPAC lay leaders noted that this year's conference is taking place at a particularly crucial moment, as the Israel lobby itself has received unprecedented attention and harsh criticism from former President Jimmy Carter, and political scientists Stephen Walt and John J. Mearsheimer.
"Clearly, the spotlight is on that issue," said Paul Silberberg, a Wynnewood resident and communal activist who served as one of the planning chairs for the summit. "To me, it's a recognition of success. All interest groups are trying to make their case. I just see AIPAC as doing what we are supposed to do."
He also addressed criticism that AIPAC has pushed an increasingly right-leaning agenda vis-à-vis Israeli politics.
"We are a very disparate and diverse community," said Silberberg. "It doesn't matter if you are a Republican or a Democrat, Peace Now or 'Not One Inch!' -- pro-Israel advocacy crosses over every one of the different constituencies. We have one agenda in mind, and that's the Israeli-U.S. relationship."
Paula Joffe, chair of AIPAC's Greater Philadelphia Leadership Council, added that "we are clearly going to hear a lot about Iran. This is not Israel's issue; this is clearly a global issue."
She warned that "the last time we had a maniac who said he was going to get rid of the Jews and we didn't act, he got rid of the Jews."