I have just returned from 2 1/2 days in Washington D.C. I was attending the annual AIPAC Policy conference along with 15,000 others who love Israel. AIPAC is the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. This important organization builds bridges and support for the State of Israel with the United States. AIPAC educates Congress and our elected leaders and works to strengthen the relationship between Israel and the U.S. AIPAC works effectively on college campuses with campus student leaders to combat the Anti-Israel fervor and the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement aimed at Israel. They educate and reach African American leaders, Hispanic leaders and Christian leaders and educate them about the strategic importance of Israel and a side of the story that they may not have heard before. As we heard from the President of the Washington local SEIU 87, a dynamic Latina, named Olga Miranda said, “I never knew Israel’s story until AIPAC introduced me to it. I merely repeated what I heard on the news. Today I know there are two sides to every story. I am pro-Israel and I am the face of AIPAC.”
While I have attended local AIPAC events I had never been to the annual policy conference. We heard from an array of speakers including Hon Isaac Herzog, the head of Israel’s Labor Party, Sen. John McCain, Sen. Charles Schumer, and Sen. Robert Menendez, head of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, Secretary of State John Kerry and Israel’s Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu. It was amazing to me in a town so divided by partisanship to see the House Majority whip Rep Eric Cantor (R) stand side by side with the House Minority Whip Rep. Steny Hoyer (D) and together talk about their common and strong support of the Israel -U.S. relationship. Hoyer couldn’t resist chiding the Jewish Cantor that he had been to Israel more times!
One of the most powerful presentations came from Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida and Pnina Tamano-Shata (Yesh Atid) the first Ethiopian Member Knesset. Side by side they each recounted a similar story of being refugees: one from Cuba and one from Ethiopia and their journeys to become legislators and all they had in common. The common values of freedom and democracy and opportunity of Israel and the United States were never more evident.
All of this and many workshops on everything from the peace process, the war in Syria, Israel’s technology revolution, Iran, fighting Boycotts of Israel, the rise of Anti-Semitism in Europe, climate change and water issues in the US and Israel and so much more; workshops for Christians, students, Latinos, LGBT receptions and how to lobby Congress. Tuesday of the conference is devoted to lobbying your Congress person and Senators for Israel.
I also learned despite some critics that AIPAC is real bi-partisan. There has been a lot of critique on the left that AIPAC became a Republican stronghold. I didn’t get that. It was clear they were committed to bi-partisanship both in representing Israel’s political spectrum and the here in the U.S. Yes there are partisan Jews on both sides of the aisle. But as someone who is center left on Israel, meaning I believe strongly in states for two people, a Jewish democratic Israel side by side with a Democratic Palestine both who can live in peace and security, I did not feel out of place at all. Other progressives were there and I believe it is important to gather there so that the entire spectrum on Israel is represented and is part of the solution for a healthy Israel -U.S. relationship!
I learned a lot in a short period of time. I hope next year some of you will join me for AIPAC Policy Conference 2015. It is March 1-3, 2015. Registration is already open. If you love Israel and you want the US and Israel to remain strong partners for peace, freedom, trade, innovation, democracy, and security then you want to be a part of AIPAC. Join me there. I have already registered. How about you? If you want to register or view the videos from the conference here is the link: www.aipac.org