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AIPAC Policy Conference 2013 Reflections

Posted by Anna Etra on March 7, 2013 @ 2:40 pm

It is a rare thing to enjoy being just a number. This weekend, I was just that, one of 13,000 Pro-Israel activists attending AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington D.C., one of 2,000 students from all over the country and one of 10 students from Columbia. Sometimes it is important to be just a number, and in this case, I was representing those three groups. AIPAC Policy Conference was an incredible, eye-opening experience, where I got to see how what I did on campus matters.

This wasn’t my first Policy Conference, but the second time around I got to see the conflict in Israel from many different angles. AIPAC’s founding principle is to strengthen the relationship between Israel and the United States and it does that in numerous ways. In the opening plenary on Sunday morning, I saw how Dan Webb, a man from Warminster, PA who didn’t have any personal connection to Israel, saw his life change before his eyes when an Israeli technology company, Argo Medical Technologies Inc., introduced an exoskeleton called the ReWalk, used to help paraplegics walk again. Watching Dan meet the founder of the company, Dr. Amit Goffer, on stage showed that friendship can transcend borders, religions and political beliefs.

“Not a whole lot that I know about Israel,” Webb explained, “I watch the news and I see the problems but I’m impressed that this little country over in the middle east that came up with this technology are now sharing it with the United States.”

On Sunday afternoon I found myself in a session led by Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks intended for Rabbis and Cantors focusing on how to get congregations more involved in the never-ending fight to strengthen the US-Israel relationship.

On Monday, I heard from Senator John McCain (R-AZ) and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) how Israel was right to stop the flotilla back in 2009. The atmosphere in the large room was exciting, filled with people who really care about the future of the state of Israel. I was hearing these important political figures, Vice President Joe Biden included, emphasize how important of an ally Israel is to the United States. On President Obama’s and his commitment to the state of Israel, Biden said “It’s in our naked self-interest, beyond the moral imperative.”

Beyond the strong words echoed by our elected officials, I also learned what could happen with Israel and the International Criminal Court.

If I left policy conference with one main insight it would be the following: To be pro-peace, you have to be pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian. You cannot be pro-Israel without being pro-Palestinian and you cannot be pro-Palestinian without being pro-Israel.
The two conflicts are interchangeable and you have to be able to sympathize with both groups.

It is possible to feel like the cause you are fighting for is so far away, but it is crucial to realize that every little bit counts. Every meeting you attend, every leadership statement you sign and every time you represent Israel on campus. Ultimately, that makes the effort worthwhile.