AIPAC Policy Conference
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On March 26-28, I had the privilege of attending the American Israel Public Affairs Committee Policy Conference in Washington, DC. The conference was a three day event packed with speakers and small sessions dedicated to understanding the US- Israel relationship. There were over 18,000 people in attendance, including 4,000 students.
AIPAC is an organization that aims to “strengthen, protect, and promote the US-Israel relationship in ways that enhance the security of the United States and Israel”. It was founded in 1951 by Isaiah L. “Si” Kenen. It was originally named the American Zionist Committee for Public Affairs, but the name was changed in 1959. The current President is Lillian Pinkus and she is the first female President of the organization.
On each day there were two general sessions where all attendees came together to listen to speeches by Israel advocates including many senators and representatives. Here are some of the featured speakers:
Former South Carolina Governor and current Ambassador to the United Nations: Nikki Haley
Vice President: Mike Pence
Speaker of the House: Paul Ryan
Senate Majority Leader: Senator Mitch McConnell (KY)
Senate Democratic Leader: Senator Chuck Schumer (NY)
House of Representatives Democratic Leader: Nancy Pelosi (CA)
House of Representatives Majority Leader: Kevin McCarthy (CA)
Prime Minister of Israel: Benjamin Netanyahu
Leader of the Opposition and Chairman of the Israeli Labor Party: Isaac Herzog
Former Canadian Prime Minister: Stephen Harper
Former UK Prime Minister: Tony Blair
President of the Republic of Rwanda: Paul Kagame
While it was incredible to hear all of these influential figures advocate for a strong US- Israel relationship, not all of these were my favorite speakers. On the first day, my favorite speaker was Yannick Tona, a Rwandan man who experienced firsthand the Rwandan genocide. He was only four years old when the Hutu tribe began murdering members of his tribe: the Tutsi. He witnessed people whom he knew and loved killed in front of him while he hid in the bushes with his disabled grandmother. Fast forward several years and Yannick attended Texas Christian University. During his schooling, he traveled to Israel and was incredibly amazed by the resilience of the country and how they have thrived after the tragedy of the Holocaust. He recounted how similar he viewed the Rwandan people and the Israeli people and sees Israel as an example of what Rwanda can become one day. I found his speech to be incredibly moving and it proved to me how Israel stands as a beacon of hope amongst a tumultuous region.
Listening to Benjamin Netanyahu speak via satellite from his office in Jerusalem was a once in a lifetime experience that I am incredibly grateful for. While I may not agree with every decision he has made, I stand by him as the leader of the free world in the Middle East and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to him address the conference.
On Tuesday, we took our efforts to Capitol Hill where we lobbied congressmen and senators on three different issues:
- Counter Iran’s Regional Aggression
- Support Security Assistance to Israel and a Robust Foreign Aid Budget
- Fight the Delegitimization of Israel
The group for South Carolina lobbied Mark Sanford, Lindsey Graham, and Tim Scott.
Of these three issues, the delegitimization of Israel was the one that struck closest to home with me. Every day, Israel struggles with people saying that it has no right to exist. In the United Nations, Israel is condemned as a terrorist nation and the UN Human Rights Council recently called it “the worst human rights violator in the world today”. This is undoubtedly false. In fact, Israel is the only example of a democratic nation where women and LGBTQ people enjoy equal rights in the Middle East. The UN has passed five times more resolutions condemning Israel than any other country. The biggest perpetrator of the notion to delegitimize Israel the BDS movement. BDS stands for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction and is a movement dedicated to the ultimate eradication of Israel. BDS efforts are extremely present on college campuses and this really frightens me. Pro-Israel students are often verbally and physically harassed for their beliefs and the number of Anti-Israel students far outweighs those that support the Jewish state. Most kids just entering college are looking for something to be a part of and trying to find their identity on a plethora of issues and these are the people attracted by the BDS movement. With the absolute one-sided information about Israel that is prevalent on campuses, it is easy to draw in people who do not have much knowledge about the Israeli-Palestinian relationship. Members of the BDS movement veil their hatred under the disguise of social justice. They present Israel as a nation of murderers and that they are simply fighting for what is right. This is false. This is anti-semitism. While there isn’t much anti-Israeli sentiment in high schools currently, it is slowly creeping it’s way into the minds of impressionable high school students. It is impossible to say that anti-semitism does not exist in high schools. I know it does. I have had friends come to class to see swastikas drawn on their desks or anti-semitic drawings passed to them during class. I’ve been called names and heard Holocaust joke after Holocaust joke. The rising popularity of the delegitimization of Israel strikes fear in the hearts of Pro-Israel people everywhere.
Overall, I was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of people at the conference that were unapologetically Pro-Israel. I have never in my life experienced a place like the AIPAC policy conference. Not only are there Jewish people, but people from all religions, partisanships, and races. I was especially proud of the amount of high school and colleges attendees because I truly believe that we are the future of Israel advocacy and have an obligation to ensure that there will be a Jewish state for our children and grandchildren to experience.