AIPAC Policy Conference Reflections
This last weekend I attended my first AIPAC Policy Conference. AIPAC was a truly amazing experience where I learned a ton about Israel and the U.S-Israel relationship. To me, AIPAC can be broken into four distinct sections: general sessions, breakout sessions, the village, and lobbying.
The general sessions at AIPAC are probably the most conducive to feeling a part of something important and greater than yourself. With over 18 thousand other people in a room more than twice as large as my entire school, I attended three sessions packed full of inspiring and educational speakers. These speakers spoke on a variety of topics surrounding Israel, but most focused on security and politics. These sessions are probably where I learned the most about Israel, the support she receives, and the opposition she faces from other countries. All of these speakers were engaging and interesting to watch. The general sessions were interesting and engaging and I am proud to say that I learned quite a bit from attending them.
Next on the list are the breakout sessions. These sessions were definitely the most interesting to me. The countless options made it difficult to choose, but I was ultimately able to whittle down my list to what was most interesting to me. I attended sessions mostly about technology and innovation, as that is what I find interesting. The first breakout session I went to was a panel on how companies are using technology to bring together not only Jewish and Arab Israeli children but also Israelis and Palestinians. I found this idea of peace through technology to be fascinating and even probable. My favorite breakout session, though, was the innovation showcase. This session was so popular they offered it twice, and for good reason. From multipurpose fabric that benefits both the IDF and US military to surgical equipment and reduced-sugar sugar, this session was packed full of interesting and revolutionary technology I am excited to see integrated into everyday life.
The AIPAC village is literally at the center of the conference. In probably the largest room I have ever been in, were countless booths, stages, and a food court, the AIPAC village is probably where I had the most fun. The booths housed Israeli companies and inventions that were absolutely amazing and super cool to learn about. I particularly enjoyed learning about Leket Israel. The national food bank collects excess food and redistributes it to those in need. It is a truly amazing program that does a lot of good. I think that if other countries applied this technique, it could reduce world hunger and food waste. It was truly inspiring to see so many inventions and companies making a difference in the world.
One of the most exciting parts of AIPAC had to have been lobbying. I lobbied with four congressmen. To see the Capitol building, which is massive by the way, was really amazing. Being in DC itself was pretty cool, but to walk the halls where legislation and policies are passed was kind of surreal. While a few of the congressmen had us speak to their assistants after the photo-op, some actually stayed to listen to what we had to say. Most of the congressmen merely smiled, nodded, and generally agreed with everything we said. Many even signed the letters we presented them right in front of us. While this was encouraging, I did appreciate that Congressman Lacy Clay actually asked questions and pushed back. I was excited to see him question our stances and show curiosity about the subject. I appreciated that he wanted to do his own research instead of just taking our words for granted. He seemed to want to form his own opinions, before he would decide how to vote. Even though this wasn’t exactly the reaction we wanted from all of the congressmen, it was the one that felt the most real to me. AIPAC strives to utilize bipartisan democracy to strengthen the US-Israel relationship. To me, asking questions and forming your own opinions is what democracy is all about. That is why I appreciated Clay’s response. All in all, the lobbying experience was incredible. As my first taste of up-close political action, I thoroughly enjoyed lobbying with AIPAC and hope to continue political activism.
The AIPAC experience was quite enjoyable and an incredible learning experience. I highly encourage those interested in pro-Israel activism to attend next year’s conference. Even if you just want to learn about the Israel-American relationship, AIPAC is the place to do it.