By: Elishama Marmon  | 

Unpack With YUPAC: AIPAC Political Leadership Forum Features Prominent Speakers and Focuses on the 2024 Elections

Over the course of Monday and Tuesday, Jan. 9–10, AIPAC held its Political Leadership Forum in the Washington Hilton in Washington, DC, and featured speeches from many of the most prominent American political leaders.

Compared to AIPAC’s past policy conferences, which attracted over 15,000 attendees, this event was small, with only about 1,000 of AIPAC’s leaders and donors being invited to attend. The focus of the Forum, in contrast to the pre-COVID goal of directly lobbying Members of Congress to vote for and support pro-Israel policies, was to emphasize the effectiveness of the new direction that AIPAC has gone in since before COVID and encourage AIPAC’s strongest supporters to continue to redouble their support for the organization, with the 2024 elections being a commonly-discussed theme.

AIPAC’s new focus, in summary, is to work to ensure that pro-Israel politicians are elected to Congress in the first place, rather than prioritizing lobbying them after. This is achieved by supporting candidates via small donations from its new PAC and spending massive amounts of money in tight races through its super PAC, which helped eight of AIPAC’s ten candidates in tough races prevail. Between the two, they raised over $50 million in the 2022 election cycle.

The featured speakers at the Forum included nearly all of the most prominent members of both major American political parties. The opening general session featured Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu via video call in his first address to a foreign audience since his recent reclamation of the Israeli Premiership. He spoke about the threat of a nuclear Iran, the importance of the existence and expansion of the Abraham Accords, the importance of support for Israel being a bipartisan issue and the cooperation that his government will have with the Biden administration. Additionally, the session featured Admiral James Stravidis, the former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, who discussed the military importance of the relationship, and writer Dan Senor, who spoke about his book about Israel’s economic growth.

The next major session featured speeches from Senate Majority and Minority Leaders Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell, respectively, as well as House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries and former Majority Leader Eric Cantor. All four spoke about their support for the U.S.-Israel relationship, the importance of ensuring that it remains bipartisan and their commitment as Leaders of their parties to ensure that the support of their parties was with Israel.

That evening featured New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who spoke about the work he does in that role. Another fascinating discussion was with Yossi Cohen, the former director of the Mossad, who spoke about the importance of American support for Israel in its various military operations. Last was Dr. Einat Wilf, a former member of the Israeli Knesset and the author of “We Should All Be Zionists,” who discussed the theme of her book.

After that, there was a reception honoring the 118th Congress, in which the Forum attendees had the opportunity to meet and mingle with dozens of Members of Congress who came after a long day of voting to discuss the issues of Israel, antisemitism and whatever else was on people’s minds.

The next day featured several different breakfasts broken up by region of the U.S., with various prominent Members of Congress speaking about their endeavors and ideas about the U.S.-Israel relationship. Following that, there was a general session featuring Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, whose remarks expounding on the military and political relationship between the U.S. and Israel are transcribed online. Other speakers were Senator Susan Collins, Representative Mike McCaul, the chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and Jonathan Conricus, the former IDF spokesperson.

After various breakout sessions discussing certain aspects of Congressional function and foreign policy, the Forum ended with two featured speeches. One was from Representative Ritchie Torres, a second-term Congressman from New York who has set himself apart by the principle, strength and eloquence in his defenses of the State of Israel and his fight against antisemitism. The other was the first speech at an event by the newly elected Speaker of the House, Kevin McCarthy. He spoke about the importance of the U.S.-Israel relation and promised to use his power as Speaker to ensure that the relationship was maintained and strengthened.

Nearly 30 student attendees who put significant work into supporting pro-Israel candidates in tough elections from across the country attended the conference as part of AIPAC’s Leadership Development program. Among them were two Yeshiva University students, myself and Jonathan Levin. The program seeks to promote student leadership in the pro-Israel political realm, as well as help students run pro-Israel campus programming, which on many college campuses is in very short supply. In YU it assists the YUPAC board in creating compelling events, including this year’s Mission To Washington, which will include an afternoon stop at the AIPAC offices in DC. There were several interesting speakers who addressed only the students, including the director of AIPAC and an Afghan refugee, who, along with the journalist who worked with IsraAID to get her out of Afghanistan, addressed the students and answered their questions on the entire ordeal.

"It was an honor to attend AIPAC's Political Leadership Conference along with other young AIPAC activists across the nation,” said Jonathan Levin (YC ‘24), a YUPAC board member and one of the YU attendees. “AIPAC does amazing work advancing the American-Israeli relationship, bolstering the security of the United States and its ally. The enduring bond of this relationship was at full display at the conference, and I am truly grateful for the opportunity to attend.”

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Photo Caption: Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin addresses the audience at the AIPAC Political Leadership Forum

Photo Credit: AIPAC