“Come Together”. This is what the Aipac conference organizers chose to use as their slogan for this year. Its election year and it is important to stress that the relationship between Israel and America is bi-partisan. It does not matter which party the candidate comes from as long as s/he supports Israel. The idea that this year: 18,700 people gathered for two days of lectures and presentations and one day of lobbying is heart warming. I have been coming to this conference for the last 12 years and each time it gives me strength to see so many activists coming together and knowing that what brings them together is ISRAEL. The lobbying agenda does not seem to change much since I started coming to the conference. Iran, Foreign Aid and the security of Israel are the three topics that we make sure that our representatives pay attention to. This year we ask that they will sign a letter; one in congress and one at the senate.
But let me start at the beginning.
We arrived on Saturday afternoon and joined the shabbaton group for a Havdala service that featured Eli Gold, a comedian we heard before. It was a nice way to begin the three day marathon of seriuos lectures and presentations.
Sunday 8am started with breakfast for the national council with Tal Becker (Hartman Institute) telling us that Israel as a home for the Jewish People achieved a state of normality, Israelis want and need to be treated like part of the Hevre-like any other country. We are safer then we were in ’67 or ’73. There are thriving Jewish communities in Israel that are exceptional in technology. Our society has many challenges but we have to remember how much we have achieved. “The work we do at Aipac is a privilege that we should be proud of.”
This was a nice way to officially start the conference before an interview of Ambassador Ron Dermer by David Horowitz (editor of Times of Israel). The ambassador talked about the major threat on Israel: IRAN , IRAN, IRAN..It sounded like a broken record and although we have been talking about it for the last 10 years, it is still the most important issue we lobby for. He reminded us that Israel never asked for an American soldier to risk his or her life for our country but we need the monetary help and the back up of the American government. As for peace, President Abbas is not part of the solution. He refuses to sit down and negotiate.
Next we heard from John Jickenlooper, Colorado governor who talked about the BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanction) movement which divides us. Colorado, under his leadership to divest from any fund that ascribes to BDS. He also talked about the partnership regarding conserving water and aerospace. Colorado has a lot to gain from collaborating with Israel.
The first breakout session I chose was called “A Military Edge: Ensuring Israel’s Military Superiority.” Ron Prosor who was the Israeli ambassador to the UN talked about the challenges of using the UN as a place for talking and trying to bring the Arab world, Saudi, Egypt and Jordan to align with Israel. Daniel Tab from the Uk talked about the wave of immigration to Europe which is changing the map. The world is changing, the Arab world used to be first in math and architecture but there hasn’t been any further innovation. Their society cannot move forward. Israel needs to have an edge or Q. M. E. (Quantitive Military Edge) to be secured. The next breakout session was about an Israeli TV show called FAUDA. It tells the story of an elite army unit whose soldiers train to go into the West bank dressed and behaving as arabs in order to target terrorists. Fauda means chaos in Arabic and its also used as a code word when the soldiers are discovered. It is fascinating. From the clips we could glimpse into the life of the Palestinians as well as the dilemma that confronts the Israelis.
The evening program started with Vice President Biden’s speech followed by Buji Herzog; the opposition leader who described his new peace/separation plan. He believes that we need to move from hoping for peace and a two state solution which he does not condemn but rather try to break the stalemate and combat terror and dis pare by encouraging investment and state-building in the areas that will form a future Palestinian State. Israel is a resilient nation and can overcome any challenge. He emphasized the importance of US-Israel relation.
The main attraction for day 2 were the presidential candidates. In the morning we welcomed Hillary Clinton and in the evening we heard from Kasich,Trump and Cruz.
Hillary talked about the shared alliance and commitment to strength of Israel. She said that the next president will immediately face a world with peril and opportunities .
Kasich talked about his first trip to Bethlehem where he met Avital Sharansky. He promised to honor the legacy of President Truman. He mentioned the Jewish community of Ohio and the memorial for the holocaust. He believes that everyone needs to live his life bigger then himself to provide hope for a better world.
Trump started by talking about Iran and promised to dismantle the Iran deal. He continued by telling us about his marching in the Israeli day parade during a “dangerous time”. He promised to veto any resolution against Israel that will come in the UN. He said he will meet Netanyahu immediately after becoming president.
Cruz started by mentioning the story of Esther, as Purim will start in two days. He mentioned Elie Wiesel who said that silence encourages the tormentor not the tormented. He called to defend together the US-Israel friendship to the next generation and stand strong together.
Paul Ryan , the speaker of the house spoke as well and also condemned the Iran deal.
It was a long day. These last two days were filled with speeches.
Tuesday morning we heard from Bibi Netanyahu via video and Senator Melendez who is a great friend to Israel.
The learning part of the conference is over and it’s now time to lobby which is the most important action. The impact of 18,000 people on the hill with a unified message of Israel is too powerful to describe. Each congressman and senator will be visited by an activist. Lets hope we can bring peace and be successful in pleading the case for Israel.