American Israel Public Affairs Committee Policy Conference 2018 this past week in Washington, D.C., was my wonderland. I had the incredible opportunity to attend AIPAC PC through the Adath Jeshurun Teen Delegation. This conference was the third national AIPAC event, preceded by Policy Conference in 2016, and Schusterman Advocacy Institute High School Summit in 2016. However, this policy conference brought many firsts for me, especially going in knowing where I aspire my future to take me.
Sunday and Monday were filled with breakout sessions sandwiched in between the highlighted general sessions with keynote speakers. The most impactful breakout session I was able to attend was hearing Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) speak on the topic of America’s strategy on Iran. With the current issues Deutch has been facing back in Florida with the recent Parkland shooting, hearing him speak on the topic of keeping Israelis safe and protected from Iran provided, what I believed, to be a wholesome and sincere insight on how we as Americans and how Congress can continue to aid Israel in its current tense situation with Iran.
General sessions highlighted the Policy Conference and truly ignited passion within the conference. Hearing from multiple senators from both sides of the aisle speak on important issues regarding Israel: America’s relationship with Israel, BDS, Iran, and more, gave powerful insight into the minds doing the voting on Capitol Hill. Minnesota’s very own Sen. Amy Klobuchar spoke during a general session and gave some incredible remarks and represented Minnesota, and the Pro-Israel Minnesota community with immense pride. Some of the main event speakers were Vice President Mike Pence, American Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, and Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.
Although Pence fumbled his words and mistakenly said “pro-life” instead of “pro-Israel,” his speech was a reassurance that the current presidential cabinet is Pro-Israel and will support the AIPAC community in its fight for maintaining and strengthening the relationship between the US and Israel. Haley was greeted with joyous and warm welcomes and was barely able to speak more than a sentence without being interrupted by applause. She reminded us to not let the bullies, especially those in the UN, knock us off our path of activism and to keep speaking out about the importance of Israel and its state as a beacon of democratic hope in the turbulent Middle East.
Hearing Bibi’s live remarks was an unforgettable experience. His encouragement to keep supporting and loving Israel, while acknowledging the good, the bad, and the beautiful carried him through his well-applauded speech. Touching on those three aspects of Israel, and the US-Israel relationship, brought an insight into Policy Conference unlike any other.
Ambassador Friedman spoke to AIPAC with some powerful words of wisdom. The most impactful thing I took away from any general session, and the entire conference, was when Friedman reminded us all that although his title has a capital “A” on the word ambassador, everyone sitting in the room is an ambassador with a lowercase “A” and it’s those ambassadors that is the strength and power behind America and Israel’s strong relationship.
Tuesday of Policy Conference, AIPAC sends all 18,000 attendees to Capitol Hill. We are well versed with AIPAC’s lobbying agenda and ready to talk to our representatives. In the Minnesota delegation, often times the students are the ones presenting the agenda items to our representatives. Lobbying to not only Klobuchar, but her fellow Minnesota Sen. Tina Smith and Congressman Erik Paulsen (MN-3) was a highlight of my Policy Conference and my year. I had the opportunity to present the agenda item about the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement, BDS, to Klobuchar. Discussing BDS, which has been hitting home recently on the University of Minnesota was an unforgettable experience. Hearing Smith speak to the AIPAC delegation for the first time in her career as a senator was refreshing and comforting knowing that although we have a new senator in office, Minnesota will remain its pro-Israel stance in the Senate.
Often times, teens are looked at as too young to truly make a change. AIPAC is an annual reminder that people of all ages, all religions, all backgrounds, and all political stances can be active voices in their communities at home and on Capitol Hill. Although I have many years of schooling ahead of me, AIPAC PC gives me the opportunity to be thrown into the hustle and bustle of Capitol Hill and International Affairs between the US and its allies. AIPAC not only educates me on the complexities surrounding the US-Israel relationship from many different viewpoints, but it facilitates and enables me to form relationships with my representatives and provides me with a platform to voice my opinions on the things that mean the most to me.
With an entire life ahead of me, AIPAC has steered me on a path to become politically active, use my voice, use my vote, and always fight for what I believe in. If you asked me what I wanted to be when I grow up before my first AIPAC event, I’d wholeheartedly tell you a doctor. Now, partially thanks to AIPAC, I have been inspired to reach for different goals and reach positions where I can advocate for my pro-Israel beliefs on a national, maybe even international, level.