My First AIPAC Conference

Trying to finally get out of school for a change, I attended Sunday’s conference of The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, better known as AIPAC. Unlike AIPAC’s national conference in Washington, this conference was held in a Chicago Hyatt, and was geared specifically toward the Midwest region. Based on the numbers given, there were anywhere from 1500-1600+ people, 600+ of whom were college students. I cannot confirm if any of these numbers are accurate, but the turnout was certainly impressive.

There were no shortage of dynamic speakers; Daniel Gordis delivered the keynote address (as well as a “breakout” session) and Alan Dershowitz concluded the conference. Furthermore, several prominent government officials were in attendance and spoke briefly.

Despite the erudition and eloquence of the speakers, most people I spoke to regretted the limited range of opinions at the conference – assuming content was actually presented. Although some minor disagreements were heard, debates were downplayed. The clear overriding theme was simply, “we support Israel.”

While this upset some participants, my perspective is that AIPAC simply accomplished what it set out to do. Most of the attendees support Israel in one way or another, and are either active or would like to be active in promoting Israel in college campuses or other forums. To adequately advocate for Israel, one needs three things. First is simply factual knowledge of the conflict and its history. This includes dates, events, quotes, or statistics. AIPAC assumes that the attendees either have this information, or could easily obtain this information on their own.

However, once you have this information, what are you supposed to do? The second requirement is personal passion. If you’re not enthusiastic, or you don’t believe in your cause, you’re not going to be an effective spokesperson. Finally, assuming you have the knowledge and the desire, you need to know what to do with them. This is where the AIPAC conference succeeded. Not only did speakers energize and revitalize the participants, but the breakout session provided practical advice for how to channel one’s enthusiasm for Israel.

For example, many students on campus are faced with vocal and inflammatory anti-Israel rhetoric. While many of these students might be tempted to debate the issues in a loud public forum, speaker at AIPAC encouraged calmer personal interactions. Instead of shouting conflicting numbers, tell people real stories about Israel. Make it real to people. The purpose isn’t merely to defend against attacks, call “reactionary theatrics,” but to actively build positive connections with Israel.

To me, this attitude parallels the conflict on the ground in Israel in the sense that instead of “stooping to their level,” AIPAC encourages a higher civil discourse. Furthermore, the opposition is interested in destruction – of bringing down Israel. If one constantly fights against these challenges, one might prevent destruction, but one doesn’t do much to build up themselves in the process either.

I think they’re right from a pragmatic level as well. Although mass demonstrations get media attention, how much do they really accomplish, especially compared with actual lobbying? As AIPAC noted, there were at least eight political figures in attendance from both political parties. Did they attend because of flashy sound bytes or though intelligent discourses? AIPAC believes that although some rebuttals are necessary, people have to pick their battles, fight them appropriately, and fight them to the end. However, in general, more will be accomplished by calmly promoting Israel, rather than responding to each and every wild accusation.

Or to quote the wisest of them all:
“The words of the wise spoken in quiet are more acceptable than the cry of a ruler among fools.”(Kohelet 9:17)

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