Hundreds of Activists Trek to Washington for Largest Ever AIPAC Gathering


Washington — Richard Gering of Elkins Park spoke for many of the local activists attending the American Israel Public Affairs Committee's annual conference in Washington this week when he said: "It is a difficult time for Israel, so people who care about Israel need to get off the couch."

He was one of some 300 from the region who trekked to Washington for the largest AIPAC gathering ever. It featured addresses by President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

For many of the delegates, Obama's speech at the plenary session Sunday was one of the most highly anticipated events.

David Edman from Wayne, who has attended AIPAC conferences for over 22 years, said he was not too concerned about Obama's comments on the 1967 borders during his speech on the Middle Eat last week.

"It is action not words that count," he said. "His words were not a surprise. He has been listening to the anti-Israel, anti- Jewish and anti-American Reverend Wright."

U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-Pa.) said she was glad that Obama clarified his position on the 1967 borders during his speech. She stressed, "Obama intends for the '67 borders [to] be a starting point not an ending point for negotiations."

There was mixed reaction to the speech. Cyma Satell from Huntingdon Valley said, "Obama pulled himself out of the hole with this speech."

Garrett Shiner from Bala Cynwyd, a 28-year-old activist, was reserving judgment. "We will have to see if he follows through with action."

A highlight of the conference was the Monday night gala where Netanyahu addressed the crowd. Two-thirds of Congress attended.

During his speech, he mentioned attending Cheltenham High School and talked poignantly about the Liberty Bell.

On Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey was one of only six members of Congress that addressed the crowd. He earned a standing ovation for his support of a unified Jerusalem.

Then all eyes turned to Netanyahu's address to a joint session of Congress. Schwartz was one of the few selected to escort the prime minister into the chamber. Afterward, she noted the contrast between Netanyahu, who said he would be the first to recognize a Palestinian state willing to live in peace with Israel, and Hamas, the new partner with Fatah, who still seeks Israel's destruction.

After the speech, AIPAC members descended on Capitol Hill to lobby their lawmakers on a host of issues, including tightening sanctions on Iran and supporting foreign aid to Israel.


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