Memorable, historic and enlightening are just a few of the words that can be used to describe this year’s AIPAC Policy Conference. Sure, there was no shortage of Trump-sized controversy, but the uplifting stories and passionate speeches in support of the US-Israel relationship were very powerful. Personally, my “AIPAC experience” began seconds after I entered the doors of the Washington Convention Center last Sunday morning. While hustling through the crowded halls, I immediately passed by the former Israeli Ambassador to the US, Michael Oren. When I finally arrived to one of my pre-selected smaller sessions (consisting of a few hundred people, instead of thousands), I spotted Upper Dublin’s very own congressman, Rep. Brendan Boyle, who led a panel discussion on the worldwide effects of a nuclear-armed Iran. In less than ten minutes, I had met an Israeli diplomat and my own congressional representative. If these first ten minutes were any sign of what the rest of the conference would hold, I was in for a good time. And sure enough, I was.
That night the fun continued over to the Verizon Center, DC’s largest sports arena, for the first gathering of all 18,000 conference delegates. Notable speakers for the evening included the mayor of Washington DC, Muriel Bowser and the Vice President himself. While it was very exciting to meet the former Israeli Ambassador and my congressman earlier that day, I was even more excited to meet the Vice President of the United States, Joe Biden. I was lucky enough to head backstage prior to Biden’s speech where I took a picture with him and had a brief conversation with him. This was one of the most exciting moments I have ever experienced. More importantly, my encounters with the Ambassador, the Congressman and the Vice President all exemplified the importance of sustaining the US-Israel relationship and working with AIPAC to get that accomplished.
The next day, Monday, can be classified as the “day of the presidential candidates”. In the morning session at the Verizon Center, all of the conference attendees/delegates heard from Secretary Clinton, who has spoken twice before at AIPAC. She stood with the President on certain aspects of his Israel policy and distanced herself from others . Overall, the Secretary’s speech was well-received. During the day, I took part in smaller “breakout” sessions that showcased experts in topics like the Syrian Civil War and the past Israeli-Palestinian negotiation processes. That evening, the most talked about and publicized event of the Policy Conference took place. Not one, not two, but four leading politicians spoke to the AIPAC audience. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and presidential candidates Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and John Kasich all gave passionate speeches. Though every speech was greatly anticipated and enjoyed, Donald Trump’s speech brought about most of the controversy. Leading up to the conference, many conference attendees expressed anger over the fact that Trump was even invited to give a speech in the first place, due to their political disagreements with him. In AIPAC’s defense, every major presidential candidate in both parties was invited to speak at the conference. Fortunately, four out of the five remaining candidates chose to attend. Senator Bernie Sanders declined the invitation. If you think about it, this could have been the only event where most candidates in both parties got to speak to the same audience on the same day.
Even though it was the last day of the conference, the work had only just begun. As with previous AIPAC Policy Conferences, most of the last day was spent at the U.S. Capitol where all of the conference attendees met with their congressional representatives and senators to discuss AIPAC’s goals for the upcoming year. Among the issues were voting for increased foreign aid to Israel and supporting direct negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians with a two-state solution in mind. After discussing these policies with Congressman Brendan Boyle, I even got to take a picture with him. (see below)
After the meetings at the Capitol, the conference was over. However, the mission to support the US-Israel relationship is certainly not. Ben Cohen, a fellow conference delegate, stated, “AIPAC was truly an eye-opening experience. It gave me great insight into the relations between the US, Israel and the world as a whole.” Ben’s reflection is not unique; I also feel that I have become more passionate about supporting Israel than I was prior to AIPAC. The bottom line is that the 2016 AIPAC Policy Conference was an incredible, thought-provoking event. I hope to see YOU at the 2017 AIPAC Policy Conference next March!