This past week, Rabbi Hoffman, Cantor Baron and I led a very large delegation to Washington DC for the annual AIPAC Policy Conference. With 18,000 delegates in attendance from over 50 countries around the world, it was the largest-ever gathering of Israel supporters in history. For three days, we learned together and celebrated Israel together.
From my perspective, as someone who has not attended the AIPAC conference in five years, I found the whole experience fascinating. Interestingly enough, after several years of high political drama, (The Iran Deal and the 2016 American Presidential Election), I was thankful that the focus of the conference was on building relationships and looking at supporting Israel through a more holistic and less partisan lens.
That is not to say that roping together both left and right is always difficult, especially in an ever more polarized world. From my walking around, I heard jarring comments from delegates like “At least this president is not anti-Israel”, (Obama was never anti-Israel) or “AIPAC has abandoned a two-state solution for peace” (it has not). These polarizing comments aside, the conference found many ways to show, and not just tell, that support for Israel cannot be a partisan issue. In the hundreds of breakout sessions including Latino, African-American and LGBTQ voices, AIPAC exerted enormous effort to show that it is a big tent including to more progressive voices.
One of my favorite sessions was a discussion between Leon Wieseltier and Donille Hartman, where they discussed the nuances of how being both pro-Israel and against the occupation is truly difficult. More important than the details of the discussion is that they were welcomed by AIPAC and by delegates alike, helping to demonstrate AIPAC’s moniker for the conference, “Many Voices, One Mission.”
Not everyone in the Jewish community was inside the convention center. While there was plenty of discussion inside amongst the left-leaning delegates, thinkers and Israeli Members of Knesset, there were protesters outside many of whom were Jewish, who want the American Jewish community to be more prescriptive about Israeli policy towards the Palestinians. Except what they failed to understand is that purpose of policy conference is not just to discuss, but to inspire. It’s not sensible to expect open debate at an international pep rally. It would be strange to show up at a UCLA tailgate wearing crimson.
One other comment I caught wind of while walking around, to which I’m not sure how to respond - I heard a delegate tell me, “Who knew how good intermarriage would be for Israel.” Meaning, I think, that intermarried spouses were huge supporters of Israel. I think that is a good thing. However, I do know that the fastest expanding group of Israel supporters are from the non-Jewish community and am still unsure how much AIPAC wants to maintain its Jewish roots. Something to think about for another time.
All in all, it was a worthwhile experience. I’ve already signed up for next year, and look forward to being inspired, to challenge and be challenged, and to develop life-long relationships in the support of my other home, Israel.