There’s the shuffling of feet. There’s the clipping of badges. There’s the large screens switching between bright videos. There’s the dramatic music. There’s the tears welling in eyes. There’s the unified clapping and standing. I am at the AIPAC Policy Conference.
This was my first American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference, and I was overwhelmed and moved. Leading up to the event, I honestly thought it would only be Jewish people meeting to discuss why we love Israel and must continue supporting the young country, yet my prediction was far from the truth. The conference was extremely diverse; there were countless people from the African-American community, Latin-American community, and Christian community. Also the sheer number of people, 18,000 total and 4,000 among that number, all students, was inspiring. In such an increasingly divided country, it was reassuring that a group of people from all races, ethnicities, religions, and political affiliations could come together in support of the same thing — promoting the U.S.-Israel relationship. I was impressed that AIPAC truly lived up to its commitment as a bi-partisan organization because I was unaware of people’s political leanings besides having pro-Israel values.
The theme for this year, “many voices, one mission,” resonated with me because that was the essence of the conference. Although a diverse group of people spoke and educated me, it was always clear what their similar messages were, America must support Israel. I learned so much but beyond expanding my knowledge of Israel and the Middle East, I came to terms with the vast majority of things that I was not familiar with. Therefore, I am intrigued to further dive into complicated Middle Eastern politics. The conference more than provided me answers, it raised questions.
A particularly meaningful breakout session was a discussion between Israeli politicians Merav Michaeli, from the Zionist Union (Labor Party), and Rachel Azaria, from Kulanu. They both were extremely intelligent and well-articulated speakers. The moderator posed questions relating to what they believed Israel’s greatest challenges were along with how they each believed they should be solved. It was the most genuine speaking I had ever heard from political officials because it was clear they spoke from their hearts. The session’s description of a “candid conversation” could not have been more accurate. Although they disagreed about many things, there were two powerful statements that they both stood behind: “it’s our moral obligation to fight for what we believe is right” and “optimism is a political choice.” Both resonated with me because often I forget that politicians are faced with moral dilemmas when creating and approving policies, and it is always best to view a situation with a positive outlook, even beyond the political arena. After walking away from that breakout session, I felt like I received an inside scoop of the thought processes of two Israeli politicians in opposing parties. This experience was extremely different from listening to the other politicians at the conference because as an American I was not familiar with the values and priorities of the two party representatives who were speaking, so I kept an extremely open mind when listening to them. This was refreshing and a good reminder to be less biased when listening to leaders of the political party which I do not identify with.
Overall, I can say that this was my first AIPAC Policy Conference, but it will not be my last. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to be inspired and engaged by leaders from all over the world. This past December, I traveled to Israel on an incredible family trip with my temple. This conference confirmed why I love Israel so much.