The Importance of the AIPAC Experience for Students

Written by Meshulam Ungar on . Posted in Features

Sorry, I just have to say it: lobbying Congress is better than going to school.

Last week, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) had its annual Policy Conference, where approximately 18,000 pro-Israel activists heard from both American and Israeli political leaders.

 

On the last day of the conference, each participant lobbies their elected officials in both the House and Senate on issues concerning Israel and the U.S.-Israel relationship. For me, a sophomore at Berman Hebrew Academy, this part was absolutely amazing. Along with our group from Maryland’s 8th district, I lobbied my congressman, Rep. Jamie Raskin, on the issue of Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. We asked him to co-sponsor the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, which would sanction companies that abide by the United Nations Human Rights Council’s anti-Israel blacklist of companies that operate outside of the 1949 borders. Members of our delegation addressed other issues as well, such as continuing military aid for Israel and sanctioning Iran’s ballistic missile program.

This experience of lobbying was empowering. I was able to just get up in front of my congressman to ask him to support something might actually make a difference in the world and my life. In only a few years, I might face the evil of Anti-Semitism on a college campus. Knowing that the Israel Anti-Boycott Act truly discourages support for BDS, it brings me hope that those who support BDS today will see their movement lose support from those with influence and power tomorrow.

Next, I went with fellow Berman student Koby Goldschlag (8th grade) to lobby Senator Bernie Sanders with AIPAC delegates from Vermont. I will never forget the meeting, sitting at the table with one with one of the most influential politicians of our generation, Democrat or Republican. I was able to discuss the issue of Israel’s mistreatment by the United Nations, and ask him to put his name on a letter to the Secretary General of the UN about the institutional bias against Israel. Senator Sanders explained his approach to the problem of anti-Israel sentiment, which differed from the majority of speakers at the AIPAC events. He said that people on both sides were slowing down a potential peace process, and not all of the actions of the current Israeli government are in line with a path to peace. Even so, Senator Sanders reaffirmed his opposition to BDS, and applauded the students from the Vermont AIPAC group for their work fostering Muslim-Jewish dialogue.

Through my experience at AIPAC, I was able to see a fuller picture of the situation in Israel. Not only did I hear the Benjamin Netanyahu and conservatives like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, but I also heard the progressive viewpoint from Bernie Sanders as well as Israeli MK Isaac Herzog, chairman of the Israeli Labor Party. Even though there were differences of opinion among these leaders, it felt reassuring to see all sides voice strong support for Israel, especially someone like Senator Sanders who was not actively involved in AIPAC. It all made me think about Israel and what I am fighting for in a new, more objective way, and feel that peace is an achievable and a goal of all sides.

Meshulam Ungar is in 10th grade at Berman Hebrew Academy and attends both Kemp Mill Synagogue and Young Israel Shomrai Emunah in Silver Spring, Maryland.