I spent last weekend in Washington, D.C. at the much-maligned and mostly-misunderstood American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference, an annual convention in which legions of citizen lobbyists descend on the nation’s capital to hear from policy makers, discuss developments in Middle Eastern politics and meet with representatives to make the case for “pro-Israel” legislation. It was my first time at the policy conference — I was raised in a theoretically, but not aggressively, Zionist home, and the year I spent in Israel before transferring to Brandeis from my small liberal arts college in Minnesota involved more protesting of the current Israeli government than lobbying in support of its American policy agenda. But then, controversy ensued when my old object of admiration in Minnesota, now-Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, called out AIPAC by name as buying American politicians. This triggered a collective heart attack in the Jewish community, as well as a spate of purportedly philo-semitic Islamophobia from Omar’s political opponents, and then a problematic conflation of that bile with the good-faith criticism that preceded it. Obsessed with this story to the point of being unable to talk about much else, I felt compelled this year to see for myself what this “Israel lobby” thing was all about.
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