virtual conference circuit

AIPAC hosts virtual gathering, previews policy agenda

The weeklong virtual lobbying campaign began with remarks from Reps. Gregory Meeks (D-NY), Michael McCaul (R-TX) and Israeli Ambassador Gilad Erdan

Bebeto Matthews/AP

Congressman Gregory Meeks, D-NY, Wednesday, May 22, 2019, at LaGuardia Community College in New York.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) began its virtual national council meeting on Monday with remarks from House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY), Committee Ranking Member Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX) and Israel’s Ambassador to the U.S. Gilad Erdan.

The influential pro-Israel lobbying group’s annual in-person Policy Conference, usually attended by thousands, was canceled many months prior amid concerns about the coronavirus. The organization is virtually convening 900 activists for 500 congressional meetings this week, to account for the standard activities on the Hill that typically cap off the larger conference, a source familiar with the effort informed JI.

AIPAC’s legislative agenda this year, the focus of the national council meeting, will seek to “gain bipartisan support” on three major issues: supporting normalization between Arab states and Israel, deterring Iran and supporting security assistance to Israel, AIPAC spokesman Marshall Wittman told JI.

On normalization, AIPAC is throwing its support behind a yet-to-be finalized bill which will be introduced by Sens. Rob Portman (R-OH), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Todd Young (R-IN). The bill will seek to further strengthen and advance the normalization agreements between Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and other Arab states, and support further efforts.

Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL) is taking the lead on the House counterpart to the legislation, and is “working with colleagues on both sides in both chambers to grow on past progress in normalizing relationships with Israel,” a Schneider spokesman told JI.

AIPAC is encouraging House members to sign a letter authored by McCaul and Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) to the chair and ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee — which holds a primary role in determining government spending — encouraging them to continue to support the 2016 memorandum of understanding between the U.S. and Israel.

Under the terms of the 2016 agreement, the U.S. will provide $3.3 billion in defense funding and $500 million for joint missile defense programs as part of this year’s federal appropriations. A section of a draft of the letter obtained by Jewish Insider pushes back on calls from some members of the Democratic Party’s left wing to condition aid to Israel. The letter is expected to garner broad bipartisan support, a congressional staffer familiar with the matter told JI.

On Iran, the lobbying powerhouse is urging senators to sign onto a letter by Sens. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) — chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) urging President Joe Biden to reach an agreement with Iran that both prevents Tehran from ever acquiring a nuclear weapon and limits its other malign activities, including its ballistic missile program.

A Menendez spokesperson said the senator is currently circulating the letter for signatures and input from other offices, and is hoping to send it this week. That letter will follow two bipartisan House letters last week, which also urged Biden to address Iran’s provocative behavior.