This week I attended the AIPAC Policy Conference. Held at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, DC, the annual conference draws over eighteen thousand participants whose driving purpose is to garner support for Israel.
What is AIPAC? The American Israel Public Affairs Committee is a lobbying group. Its mission is to strengthen and protect the U.S.-Israel relationship in ways that enhance the security of the United States and Israel. To achieve this, activists promote pro-Israel policies to members of the Congress.The bills for which AIPAC lobbies are jointly sponsored by both a Democrat and a Republican.
Who are these people? AIPAC’s supporters are bipartisan. The speakers and participants come from a variety of backgrounds, persuasions, and political parties. Certainly, the majority is Jewish. But the most inspiring voices are the ones of other faiths and practices, ethnicities and races. Those are the ones who’ve taken time to question, to learn, to visit, and to be heard. Why? Because, through curiosity or circumstance, something about Israel – the Bible, the land, its inhabitants, the conflicts, its technologies, the people’s resilience – something has spoken to them.
What does it mean to support Israel? The bipartisan answer is multifaceted. Supporting Israel means acknowledging:
- Israel’s right to exist;
- Israel’s right to defend its citizens and country if it is attacked; and
- Israel is the only democracy and true friend of the U.S. in the Middle East.
More specifically to this year’s legislative agenda, however, AIPAC is lobbying to:
- Ensure ongoing foreign aid and support to ensure Israel’s ability to protect and defend itself;
- Oppose Iranian aggressions and terrorist escalations in northern Israel;
- Support direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians to promote a two-state solution; and
- Oppose boycotts of Israel through the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement that impact its economic welfare.
This was my fourth conference and I learn something every time. (It’s also great for networking!) I especially appreciated the opportunity to meet my home district’s Congressman, Barry Loudermilk. He met with a group of us in his office on “the Hill” and was positively gracious; a nice man who legitimately cares about his constituents and Israel. His words rang true with seriousness, sincerity, and integrity.
While Congressman Loudermilk’s reasons may be politically and ethically motivated, my reasons for supporting Israel are personal. I am a product of Holocaust survivors whose country (Poland) did not protect them from the Nazis. I am a victim of antisemitism and worry that America may not protect me one day. I am a Jew who feels connected to the land of my ancestors. And, many people who I love and care about are Israeli.
In my opinion, however, it’s important to state that supporting Israel does not mean doing so blindly. Nor does it imply tacit agreement with all of its government’s policies or laws. As a democracy and sovereign country that is merely seventy years old, Israel must do better within its borders. It is time to grant and enforce equal rights to its citizens (e.g. gender equality and racial equality), celebrate religious pluralism, create economic fairness, and more. It also must resolve issues outside its borders. Israel has a long way to go if it truly aspires to be “a light unto the nations.” But until it can reach that point, Israel deserves to be supported, nurtured, and protected; not bullied or beaten on.
With all that said, three days of speeches, opinions, conversations, and political jabs — while interesting — were exhausting. My mind couldn’t help but drift to the future…to my new grandson…and to the new generation entering the world. Will their parents foster an environment open to foreign or unfamiliar ideas, free of fear or bullying? Will their friends embrace the values of social justice and welcome in strangers? Will families embrace their similarities as well as their differences? How will today’s infants learn about and understand Israel? (I’ll take them all on their first trip to Israel, that’s how!)
As I sum up this year’s conference, no matter what we do, someone will lean to the right. Another will lean to the left. Someone will be clueless. Another will fall asleep. And someone will be squished in the middle (and not too happy about it). But we still can come together and sit at the same table…
…or on the same couch.
(Note: Thank you to my daughter-by-marriage for allowing me to shamelessly adore my grandson and his friends.)