Think Before You Sing Hatikva'

The showcase event of the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC, which ended on Tuesday in the American capital, was a dizzying success.

WASHINGTON - The showcase event of the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC, which ended on Tuesday in the American capital, was a dizzying success. The administration sent one of its most senior representatives, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and more than half of the members of both houses of Congress attended the lobby's gala party. The message sent by the mammoth event was clear: The lobby is not only alive and well, but it justly holds the title of the second most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill, even after half a year of an FBI investigation that is still going on.

At the end of the conference, after they finished their lengthy ovation for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, participants made their traditional pilgrimage to Capitol Hill to meet with their representatives in Congress and pass on the key messages they received at the conference: Support the disengagement plan and end Iran's nuclear program.

AIPAC sees the conference's success as proof that the lobby is emerging from the crisis engendered by the Larry Franklin affair. After a wave of negative media reports about AIPAC, it is once again back on its feet; and having gotten rid of the senior officials who were involved in the affair, it is stressing that the lobby itself was never the target of any investigation.

But the Franklin affair has nevertheless left its mark - not only on conversations in the corridors, but also on the tone and the emphasis that AIPAC tried to broadcast over the past week. The general message that emanated from the conference was one of American patriotism and absolute loyalty to the United States. This super-patriotic message was evident in the speeches of the lobby's leaders, in the wording of the signs and the design of the logos, and in the unexplained omission of "Hatikva," which in past years has always been sung right after the American anthem.

AIPAC is not just a political lobby. It is also a grass roots-organization whose membership numbers 100,000 Americans, almost all of them Jewish, which maintains offices in all 50 states - more than any other American Jewish organization. Support for Israel has in recent decades become one of the principles that unites the American Jewish community, and AIPAC, as the organization that represents this principle more than any other group in America, has thus become a key force in the community.

Therefore, even if AIPAC's political power in Congress and the administration has not been harmed by the Franklin affair, that is not the whole picture. The investigation's effect on ordinary American Jews - AIPAC members who believe in the State of Israel and want to help it, and millions of other Jews who are not active in the lobby but desire Israel's welfare - must also be examined.

These Jews received a problematic message from the conference in Washington this week. For if the all-powerful lobby was forced to downplay Israeli symbols and jump through hoops to prove that it is a patriotic American organization, what will all those ordinary Jewish supporters of Israel do? Do they also need to think twice before they sing `Hatikva'?

This week's AIPAC conference proved that the damage caused by the Franklin affair to the lobby itself is apparently reparable, and that when the investigation and the legal proceedings end, AIPAC will be able to resume business as usual. But the scars that the investigation has left on the Jewish community as a whole will take many years to heal. Some 350 years after Jews began to live in North America, U.S. Jews once again find themselves forced to cope with charges of "dual loyalty" and with the need to prove that they are no less patriotic than any other American. And that damage will be far harder to repair.