American Jews are extremely passionate about Israel. Regardless of sect, political affiliation or region of the country, 16,000 people came to Washington DC for AIPAC Policy Conference for the sole purpose of advocating for Israel. The enormity of this event was a physical representation of the care that American Jews have for our homeland. This was remarkable, and it was also clear that Israel unites people outside the Jewish community as well. AIPAC draws on a very diverse audience from college students to retirees, people of the Jewish, Christian, and African American communities as well as policymakers, law enforcement officials, and community leaders, all of whom gather to support Israel uniquely. This blend of voices elevates the fact that Israel means something different to each individual. For some, it is an ancestral homeland while, for others, it is a place of budding innovation and entrepreneurship.
The immediate past, current, and incoming NFTY Presidents all attended AIPAC this week. The conference allowed this cadre to debrief and vision for what the future of Israel engagement in NFTY could look like. Each NFTY President took away something from the conference with different implications for NFTY. The following are three moments that resonated in terms of our connection individually and as a movement to NFTY.
Andrew: I was sitting in the plenary session about Israeli technology and innovation when I was introduced to a UCLA student originally from Panama. We started talking about being college students at AIPAC and our mutual friends at each other’s schools. As a motorcycle-style ambulance pulled on stage, she said “We have that in Panama!” I figured they had something similar. Absolutely captivated by the founder of “United Hatzala,” an Israeli company that trains laypeople to be first responders to triage emergency situations while waiting for an ambulance, I realized how critical this service could be in countries with rural populations and even in big cities with dense traffic. Near the end of the presentation, the founder said that the company is being scaled to countries including Argentina, United States, and Panama! My new friend was right, a revolutionary Israeli innovation had made its way 7500 miles to Latin America. That moment both clarified Israel’s importance in solving global challenges by fostering innovation, and also that Israel connects the Jewish people in more ways than just one.
Debbie: I generally think that the government is pretty wishy-washy in their statements. While I understand why this is the case, political-correctness tends to trouble me. It’s makes politics opaque and difficult for the average person to navigate. At Policy Conference, we heard UN Ambassador Samantha Power stands up for Israel, much the way she does frequently in the United Nations. Her speech was the opposite of wishy-washy. Everything she said was crisp and meaningful. Not a word was wasted in flowery metaphors or fluffy descriptions. Time and time again, she clearly stated that “the US-Israel partnership transcends politics and it always will.” From my seat in the audience, I imagined Ambassador Power speaking with that amount of directness and transparency in New York, Geneva, Vienna, and Nairobi. In that moment, I was so proud to not only be a supporter of Israel, but to be an American supporter Israel. In that moment, I understood how deep the connection runs between the US and Israel and that, regardless of the politics currently surrounding it, that connection will never fail.
Jeremy: A moment that struck me was lobbying at the office of my congresswoman, Marcia Fudge. I expected this meeting to be somewhat tense due to the fact that she had decided earlier that day to not attend Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech to congress. Instead, the meeting was polite and light-hearted. As I watched the speech from Representative Fudge’s office, I realized that the support for Israel is an issue that extends far beyond American party lines, regardless of how it can be portrayed in the media.
One of the most fascinating things about AIPAC Policy Conference is that we all had the chance to hear opinions that vary hugely from our own. We were all challenged to discuss opinions with other and often heard remarks that were completely opposite from our own thoughts. Although this was difficult, it became obvious that we all often get entrenched in focusing our support of Israel on policy and laws. While this is critically important, we must have to celebrate Israel’s rich culture, cutting edge technology, and most simply, the vibrancy of the Jewish peoplehood. AIPAC Policy Conference was a place where that was possible- we look forward to continuing the conversation with you as to how to deepen and widen Israel engagement in our home communities and NFTY regions.
Want to see what we saw? Check out videos and more here: http://www.policyconference.org