Not surprisingly, much of the recent 2014 AIPAC Policy Conference held in Washington, D.C., was centered on the nuclear threat to Israel and the rest of the world from Iran, David Ainsman said.
“AIPAC has serious concerns about Iran,” said Ainsman, president of the Pittsburgh chapter of AIPAC, which sent approximately 60 people to this year’s conference.
“The goal is Iran does not have the capability of creating a nuclear weapon. What that would boil down to, I cannot tell you,” Ainsman continued. “Would it include a peaceful nuclear program for energy purposes? I can’t tell, but the goal is to dismantle a weapons program — or any weapons capability. And obviously they want a permanent agreement; they don’t want a nuclear program that is mothballed and set aside so Iran could immediately recreate a nuclear capability.
“[And] we want transparency,” he added. “We want intrusive inspections.”
Even if a treaty between Iran and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany — the so-called P5+1 — were reached, allowing for some kind of peaceful nuclear program in Iran, parts of its existing program are clearly not peaceful, Ainsman said.
“Iran is building a plutonium facility,” he said. “The only purpose for that is nuclear weapons; there’s no peaceful purpose.”
As in past years, the AIPAC conference drew some of the heaviest hitters in U.S.-Israeli relations, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was in Washington for talks with President Barack Obama. Netanyahu addressed the a morning general session of the conference.
Secretary of State John Kerry, who currently is involved in the talks with Iran, not to mention the resumed peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, addressed an afternoon general session before flying to Kiev.
Some of the other speakers were U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew; Israeli Labor Party Leader Isaac Herzog; Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.); House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.); House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.); and AIPAC CEO Howard Kohr.
According to Ainsman, U.S. Reps. Mike Doyle (D-Swissvale), Tim Murphy (R-Upper St. Clair) and Keith Rothfus (R-Sewickley) and U.S. Sens. Robert P. Casey Jr. (D-Pa.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), were lobbied by the Pittsburgh delegation during the conference.
At the student level, the Hillel Jewish University Center sent 16 staff, students and “JBurghers” (graduate students and young professionals) to the conference, according to Assistant Director David Katz.
One particular goal was to have leaders of the University of Pittsburgh’s AIPAC chapter — known as PIPAC — meet with AIPAC staff to be briefed on the steps they must take for Pitt to be designated a “showcase campus.”
“There are a series of goals and accomplishments to be met related to political advocacy — everything from meeting with elected representatives, participating in letter and mail campaigns, and larger Israel education programs,” Katz said. “If you complete the set criteria you get designated as a showcase campus.”
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)