The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) hosted more than 4,500 students, including 11 Clark University students, at its 2020 conference in Washington, D.C., March 1-3.
“This year, the general sessions were more focused on the upcoming American presidential election,” said sophomore Jacob Vider, who was attending his second AIPAC conference. “I came to AIPAC this year with the hopes of seeing politicians who were running for president in the United States speak.”
While presidential nominee Bernie Sanders made it clear he would boycott the convention, Vider and the thousands of other attendees were still able to listen to Joe Biden, then-nominee Amy Klobuchar, then-nominee Michael Bloomberg and Vice President Mike Pence.
“I was impressed by the efforts of AIPAC to remain a bipartisan organization. I was glad to see they had a number of speakers from the Democratic Party,” Vider said.
Senior Will Lichtenberg agreed with Vider, stating, “It is extremely important for people to understand the importance of supporting Israel, regardless of which political party they side with.”
This bipartisan relationship, though, is what made the conference so important to many.
“AIPAC is and has always been bipartisan,” said ClarkU Hillel executive director Jeff Narod. “The conference gives students a chance to hear many disparate views on Israel and allows them to refine and share their positions on important issues related to the mutually beneficial long-term U.S.-Israel relationship.”
Speakers discussed how America cannot allow Israel to become one of the many issues that divides our country. It’s a common ground, as people like Mike Pompeo, Benjamin Netanyahu and Mitch McConnell said.
“I was proud to see how the policy conference reaffirmed this idea, that the bond between the U.S. and Israel is stronger than ever,” said Roy Buchler, IACT coordinator for Israel engagement at ClarkU Hillel. “I was eager to see how over 4,500 students gathered together to advocate for Israel on the legislative level.”
But one speaker stood out the most for Lichtenberg.
“I liked Joe Biden’s pre-recorded video speech in the general session,” Lichtenberg said. “Out of all the speakers I heard, I thought he did the best job conveying the idea that it’s OK to be pro-Israel while still criticizing certain Israeli policies and being supportive of the Palestinian right to self-determination.”
This sentiment seemed to ring true with a lot of attendees, who thought Biden’s statements were not as politically propagated as others.
“One of my favorite moments of the entire conference was a line during his speech: ‘Being pro-Israel does not mean you have to be anti-Palestine,’” Lichtenberg said.
In addition to the main sessions, students attended breakout sessions throughout the three-day AIPAC conference.
“I attended a breakout session on Israeli efforts to combat climate change,” Vider said. “Oftentimes, we hear about the relationship between America and Israel in the context of the military, and it was refreshing to consider the ways that an American-Israel relationship can positively impact the global environment.”
Lichtenberg was able to go to a different session.
“I really enjoyed the ‘How We Will Win on Campus’ breakout session, in which I had the opportunity to hear from a panel of college students,” Lichtenberg said. “As important as it is to hear the speakers and politicians at the conference talk about the importance of Israel advocacy on college campuses, nothing is more valuable than hearing from fellow college students who, like me, have had to experience anti-Israel sentiments on their campuses.”
And for him, these anti-Israeli sentiments were one reason he came to the conference in the first place.
“On my campus, I constantly face anti-Israel attitudes from fellow students,” Lichtenberg said. “Through attending the AIPAC Policy Conference and Saban Leadership Seminar, I have learned useful ways to combat antisemitism on campus and how to better engage in discussions about Israel.”
This sentiment was expressed by Narod as well.
“This is not an easy time for college students in America to be Jewish, and an even tougher time to be openly pro-Israel,” Narod said. “On many campuses, students witness antisemitic graffiti on the walls and anti-Zionist protests as a response to Jewish events and celebrations.”
But because of these hate-filled activities, Narod believes it’s important for students to attend AIPAC.
“Being at AIPAC with 11 bright and brave student leaders, eager to advocate for Israel with our senators and congressmen, and hearing from our national leaders, including presidential candidates, is an unmeasurable source of pride for me as their Hillel executive director at Clark University,” he said.
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