Participants pose for a group photograph during AIPAC’s Inaugural Christian Leadership Summit in Atlanta, Georgia, 2012. (Photo: AIPAC-Southern States/Facebook)
During July the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, marked an escalation in the lobby group’s strategic courting of non-Jewish members by hosting the Inaugural Christian Leadership Summit. From July 23rd to the 24th, 68 Christian community leaders who previously traveled to Israel on a 2010 AIPAC-sponsored trip reconvened in Atlanta, Georgia.
Participants included pastors, ministers as well as community and national leaders who represent large and important Christian constituencies. The robust program featured a keynote address by Israel Defense Force Major (res.) Elliot Chodoff on the state of the Middle East, a political panel featuring Ralph Reed and John Anzalone, and expert presentations and briefings by AIPAC National and Southeast professional staff.
Conference attendees included community leaders, a former Mississippi mayor and now Democrat congressional candidate, Heather McTeer, and a Christian lifecoach, Lyndon Allen, who blogged about his “zeal for Israel.”
From Allen’s personal website, Total Victor Life:
Two years ago, I travelled to Israel with a group of Christian leaders (pastors & ministers), elected officials and business professionals as a guest of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
My zeal for Israel is rooted in my relationship with Yeshua (Jesus, a Jew). God declares in the Bible that HE is “Zealous with great zeal” for the land of Israel (Zech 8). How can I not share in the same? I gladly support the purposes of God for Israel.
In March 2012 the Forward‘s Nathan Guttman explained the expansion of non-Jewish recruitment is tied to a “shrinking Jewish population,”
Several demographic and political trends now guide the pro-Israel lobby as it seeks to grow and maintain its role as one of the nation’s leading political powerhouses. First is the mere fact that the proportion of Jews in America is constantly shrinking. In a March 4 presentation at the AIPAC conference, the lobby’s national political director, Robert Bassin, noted that while in 1940, American Jews made up 3.5% of the population, they are currently 2.1% of all Americans, and if the trend continues, by 2080, Jews will be only 0.8% of the population.
Compounding the problem are geographical trends that have weakened the political power of American Jews as more Americans have moved to the Southern and Western regions from the Northeast and the Midwest. In terms of Jewish political clout, this is yet another source of concern. In his presentation, Bassin gave the example of North Carolina. The state is home to a Jewish population of only 30,000 people but has more congressional districts than New Jersey, which has a Jewish population of 500,000.
The bottom line is clear: A shrinking Jewish population with less local power requires a boost from outside the community to get across the message.
Student participant on AIPAC-sponsored trip holds
an Ethiopian child at the Zion Absorption Center
outside of Jerusalem, 2012.
(Photo: AIPAC/the Near East Report)
This year’s inaugural assembly is not AIPAC’s first foray into wooing non-Jewish members. In 1999 the lobby group ran its first advocacy training trip to Israel for non-Jewish participants, signing-up 43 students from historically black and Christian universities. Today AIPAC has institutionalized outreach to the African American Christian community through the Milstein Foundation Campus Allies Mission to Israel, where African American, Latino and Christian students are aggressively swayed to campaign for Israel during a 10-day subsidized trip.
“Now, when I go to engage members of Congress or speak with students on my campus, I am in a position to say, without a doubt, ‘these people want peace,’ and to argue that the foreign aid we give Israel concretely protects both lives and democracy,” said Skip Carlson, from Brigham Young University, after returning from a Spring 2012 AIPAC trip to Israel.