AIPAC caught in the middle of coronavirus quandary

AIPAC caught in the middle of coronavirus quandary

Two conference attendees tested positive for virus; unclear if they interacted with any members of Congress while in nation’s capital

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks from Israel via video link at the annual AIPAC conference in Washington, on March 26, 2019. (Jim Watson/AFP/File)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks from Israel via video link at the annual AIPAC conference in Washington, on March 26, 2019. (Jim Watson/AFP/File)

WASHINGTON — The American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) knows what it’s like to be caught in the trenches of Washington political warfare. Its Policy Conference last week made that abundantly clear, with highly partisan speeches delivered by US Vice President Mike Pence and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman to a forum aimed at building bipartisan support for Israel on Capitol Hill.

But now, the powerful lobbying group is dealing with another imbroglio: the rapidly unfolding coronavirus outbreak.

AIPAC notified all its attendees, speakers, participants in an email last week that two people who attended the confab — both from Westchester County, New York —  have tested positive for the coronavirus virus. It also posted its statement on Twitter and has coordinated with federal health officials about how to react to the crisis.

Roughly 18,000 people attended the AIPAC conference, which took place from March 1-3 in Washington, D.C.

It’s not clear whether the two infected individuals interacted with any administration officials or members of Congress. The annual conference ends with thousands of activists heading to Capitol Hill to push the lobby’s top agenda items.

Asked by The Times of Israel whether the organization had been in touch with any members of Congress or congressional staff who met with the coronavirus-infected conference attendees, an AIPAC official said they “don’t have anything further — we continue to follow the guidelines by local and federal public health authorities.”

AIPAC has posted daily updates since the two cases have come to light. The DC Health Department stated Friday that there was “no identified risk to conference attendees at this time.”

“If you test positive for coronavirus, we urge you to inform your local health authorities so they can properly coordinate their response to this situation with the appropriate health authorities,” the group said in a statement last week.

It urged everyone who came to its conference to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and to consult with their doctors if they feel ill or have medical questions.

A congressional aide told The Times of Israel that legislators and staffers on Capitol Hill were “freaking out” about whether they had interacted with the infected pro-Israel activists.

Over the last 24 hours, a number of Republican members of Congress have announced that they were self-quarantining for 14 days after they had contact with an infected individual at the Conservative Political Action Conference, including Texas Senator Ted Cruz Arizona Congressman Paul Gosar, Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz.

Israeli officials have sent mixed messages about whether conference attendees who returned from Washington need to quarantine. Health Ministry directives cover anyone who attended an international conference, but some attendees have been told that they do not need to self-quarantine.

On Saturday, Washington, DC confirmed its first case, the rector of a prominent Episcopal church.

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