By: Esti Hirt  | 

Yeshiva University Students Attend and Speak at AIPAC

From Sunday, March 1st to Tuesday, March 3rd, 16,000 Pro-Israel activists gathered in Washington D.C. for AIPAC’s 56th annual Policy Conference. The conference, held in the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, was bustling with representatives from all 50 states varying in age, political preference, ethnicity, and religion. In fact, AIPAC was proud to mention numerous times throughout the program that it was both the largest and most diverse Policy Conference they had ever held.

The three-day event is planned for months beforehand and no minute goes to waste. There are two days full of large general sessions with speakers such as israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, plus hundreds of smaller break-out sessions to choose from. Session topics range from discussing Israeli film and food to analyzing China’s relationship with Israel and the Middle East to learning about all of the different water- related technologies invented in Israel. The conference then culminates with a third day, where activists take what they have learned and put it to use lobbying on Capitol Hill.

The amount of professionals who use “vacation days” to attend the conference in Washington is greatly acknowledged and appreciated, however the group of conference attendees that is most recognized and spoken about is the student population. More than 2,500 students from over 490 campuses were present this year, amongst them 260 student government presidents from all 50 states.

The entire campus and early engagement branch of the AIPAC staff works for months to secure hotel rooms, funding, and other logistical details in order to ensure student participation at the conference. The investment in student delegates is obvious, and they are frequently referred to as the future of the pro-Israel movement. It is reiterated time and again that students are the activists who will ensure that the strong U.S.- Israel alliance is maintained.

While AIPAC primarily takes a political standpoint and only engages in direct contact with policy makers, for AIPAC trained student activists on campus things are a bit different. With groups like Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), and movements such as the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS) spreading across campuses throughout the country, Pro-Israel students today need more support than ever.

Therefore, AIPAC has created an entire student network with field organizers and advisors in order to help students and Pro-Israel groups on campus figure out how to best combat the opposition they face. These college groups do not only react to opposition, but they are proactive and organize different speakers and events to spread Israel awareness.  Additionally, with the guidance of AIPAC, multiple groups, including Yeshiva University’s YUPAC, organize lobbying missions both in their school’s district and to Washington D.C.

Yeshiva University students were present at the conference, some as YU delegates attending through the allotted spots given to the university by AIPAC, and some students having attended separately with family, friends, or varyious organizations. Students who attended the conference specifically as YU delegates had the opportunity to mingle with other Pro-Israel students from across the country and hear about their experiences on campus. With special sessions intended just for college students in order to discuss ways in which to better the situation on campuses, YU delegates were able to contribute to the conversation and learn more about the different situations students have faced in the past few months.

However, while all students and participants have an exciting experience, mine was a little more unique.

For a short while during the convention I was not sitting amongst the crowd of 16,000, but alongside my twin sister Leeza (Columbia University ‘18), I was standing on the stage. As an Israel advocate who has been involved with AIPAC since high school, a few members of the AIPAC staff knew that I would be attending Policy Conference amidst three generations of my family, twelve members in all. They were excited to have two college activists who influenced their family to get involved, and asked us if we would be willing to get on stage and encourage others to do the same.

While the experience of being on the stage was fun and a little daunting, being backstage was ten times more so. High-ranking AIPAC members, The Times of Israel Editor- in-Chief David Horovitz, and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Powers were all within a few feet from where we were sitting. Backstage (in a separate room) as well was Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was scheduled to speak following our appearance. It was inspiring to see so many important people congregated, each preparing to address the crowd. While everyone backstage came from different walks of life and held different political views, they were all speaking because they realized the value in the cause and in addressing the people who support it.

Our appearance only lasted about a minute and a half. However, the response we have gotten has been overwhelming. When we got on stage we were not only representing our family, but each of us were standing proudly as activists from our respective schools. More importantly, we were standing as young Orthodox women, and people from communities across the country and Israel have contacted us, expressing their excitement to have seen two “frum” girls up on stage (or on their computer screen).

For Leeza and I, it was certainly a once in a lifetime experience. However, hopefully we will see more Orthodox, or even better, more YU students on the stage in the years to come.