It was an impressive line-up of speakers, by any standard. Organizers of the annual AIPAC policy conference, which ended Tuesday in Washington, managed to book the President of the United States, Prime Minister of Israel and top Republican and Democratic leaders of Congress.
But there was an obvious omission from AIPAC’s stage: a woman.
Women politicians and experts were featured speakers at the smaller breakout sessions and in closed-door meetings throughout the conference, but none as keynote speakers at the plenary sessions — those mega-gatherings in which all AIPAC’s 10,000 delegates get together to listen to leaders pledge their friendship to Israel, and address the current state of relations between the U.S. and the Jewish state.
It should be said that there was not much room for gender maneuvering in choosing the key speakers. The president of the U.S. and the prime minister of Israel are men. So are majority and minority leaders of the Senate. But what about the House of Representatives? Speaking at AIPAC were Republican speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, and Democratic Minority Whip Steny Hoyer. Minority leader Nancy Pelosi, who attended the AIPAC dinner, might have been the right choice for a top leader who is also a woman.
On the Israeli side, opposition leader Tzipi Livni attended the conference and addressed a small leadership group, but did not speak at the plenary. It is an AIPAC tradition that Israel is represented by the head of state at a plenary session, and that opposition members speak in closed-door sessions. But this tradition has been broken in the past when Israel was facing elections and candidates from all parties were invited to the podium.
Another opportunity for inviting prominent women speakers could have been the third-day plenary session, which is usually reserved for leading congressional figures. This year AIPAC chose senators John Thune and Robert Casey. In past years, this forum hosted Maine Senator Susan Collins and other women speakers.
There is no shortage of women in the pro-Israel political arena. From Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (who was traveling abroad with President Obama) to Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, chairwoman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs (who spoke at a small session). Other options, just to name a few, could be ambassador to the U.N Susan Rice, Senator Diane Feinstein, or even former governor Sarah Palin, who has been very outspoken on issues relating to Israel.
It could well be that AIPAC was aware of women being underrepresented in their conference. This might explain the breakout session titled “Pro-Israel Politics — A Woman’s View,” which featured Nevada congresswoman Shelly Berkley, Democratic consultant Ann Lewis (who was the only woman to make it to AIPAC’s big stage, as a panelist with three other men) and two AIPAC women leaders.
But conference organizer could have peeked into the next room to see that it might not be necessary to arrange a special session for women. In another breakout session taking place at the same time, three powerful women took on the issue of American foreign aid. They were Texas Republican Rep. Kay Granger, who chairs the House subcommittee on state and foreign appropriations, Rep. Nita Lowey, the ranking Democrat on the committee, and Ester Kurz, AIPAC’s top lobbyist on foreign aid. They simply talked shop as three professionals who know have a lot to say about Israel and the U.S. — not about being women in politics.