A.I.P.A.C. Conference Closes With Security-Heavy 10,000-Guest Banquet

By Walter Nichols May 25, 2011, 12:56 PM EDT

Photo: Tony Bro

When the American Israel Public Affairs Committee holds its annual three-day conference in Washington, security for elected officials and attendees is always the priority for the powerful, controversial pro-Israel lobbying group and its director of national events, Jeffrey Shulman. The lines are long, and pockets and purses are checked twice when the featured speakers include Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Speaker of the House John Boehner, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Doors opened at 6 p.m. Monday night at Walter E. Washington Convention Center for the closing banquet for this year’s gathering, the largest ever, where dozens of sign-wielding demonstrators shouted anti-aid-to-Israel slogans. Inside the venue, U.S. and Israeli security forces manned two consecutive screening stations for the nearly 10,000 guests, who included more than 350 members of Congress, administration officials, diplomats, and A.I.P.A.C. delegates from all 50 states.

For the conference, which ran Sunday to Tuesday, general contractor Hargrove provided registration stations, cafés, lounges, information booths, and all graphics and signage, many bearing this year’s branded message of “Better Together.” At 7 p.m. on Monday, more than 8,000 guests, including all V.I.P.s, began filling joint halls D and E for the main banquet, where Hargrove had installed 6,000 square feet of draping, 176,000 square feet of carpet, technical gear, and press risers. (An additional 1,500 guests—student delegates from more than 400 campuses—dined in the upper-level ballroom.)

“For an event this size, it’s all about managing all the parts and moving pieces,” said Hargrove lead account executive Chris Fulghum, as he checked last-minute details. Before dinner was served, in an ongoing tradition, each member of Congress stood for a roll call of support for strong U.S./Israel relations. Fulghum’s favorite detail: a decor-consistent surround for Netanyahu’s personal, armored lectern.

There were no flowers anywhere. Perfect Settings draped rounds with red, white, or blue iridescent fabric. Food service providers Centerplate/NBSE set up nine kitchens and brought in more than 700 servers for their biggest-ever kosher dinner. “Their most critical request was that the wine had to be mevushal, or boiled, and that’s what we have right here,” said the company’s general manager, Vincent McPhail, adding that his team also koshered all the convention center's kitchens, food portables, equipment, and cooking and serving utensils. A subcontractor, New York-based and kosher Foremost Caterers, prepared a main course of capon stuffed with challah, peaches, and raisins.

Viva Creative contributed the evening’s most dynamic component: a 500-foot-long projection screen, which served as the stage backdrop, mounted with 15 sets of double projectors. No one could miss a second of the prime minister’s speech at 9:30. The last guests left the center and the tight security bubble an hour later.

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