By, Nina Siegel
From March 25th to March 27th, the Yeshiva University Political Action Club (YUPAC) sent Yeshiva University’s first delegation to the AIPAC Policy Conference. The theme of this year’s conference was “Connected for Good.” Over the course of the three day conference, students heard from, met with, and lobbied political leaders from different countries and with different political views. Their commonality was that they were united at AIPAC in support of Israel.
On Sunday, the conference began with an exciting general session, introducing the 18,000 participants to AIPAC’s agenda. During this first session, many world leaders, AIPAC leaders, and activists spoke. The Romanian Prime Minister, Viorica Dăncilă, announced Romania’s decision to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and was then accompanied by the heads of state of Cabo Verde and Honduras who discussed their country’s support for Israel. The morning ended with an energizing performance by Koolulam, an Israeli-founded social singing movement that brings people together through song.
In response to comments made in the weeks leading up to the policy conference by members of Congress, there was much discussion about the importance of AIPAC despite ongoing criticism and false claims. Furthermore, a main discussion point throughout the entire conference was the increasing importance of bipartisanship and Israel remaining a strictly bipartisan issue.
Throughout the conference, YU students were able to attend a variety of breakout sessions that were smaller and more focused and discussed a range of issues. This allowed students to tailor their policy conference experience and to learn more about the issues they are passionate about. Students attended a variety of breakout sessions, discussing topics such as “Israeli Innovation: Is There a Future for Bipartisanship?,” “Jerusalem: Conflict and Consensus,” and “Israelis and Palestinians: Ideas for the Future.” One particular session that many YU students attended was titled, “Why A Jewish State” which President Ari Berman participated in.
At the college fair on Sunday, Yeshiva University was represented by YUPAC co-president Jake Benyowitz. The following day, YUPAC co-presidents Shanee Markovitz and Jake Benyowitz received awards for 2019 Advocates of the Year. This award recognized the outstanding efforts of Yeshiva University to create increased advocacy and passion on campus about the American-Israeli relationship.
The YU delegation had the privilege of meeting with several prominent figures over the course of the conference. On Sunday, students met with Gloria Garces, Media & Outreach Director of Fuente Latina, an organization that makes news about Israel and the Middle East accessible to Spanish language speaking media. She spoke to students about the key role she played in coordinating support for the Guatemalan Embassy move to Jerusalem. On Monday, YU students met with Elan Carr, the State Department’s Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism. He discussed his role, the importance of organizations like AIPAC, and the importance of every one of us to stand with Israel and to work to combat anti-Semitism. Lastly, students met with Danny Ayalon, former Israeli ambassador to the United States and current member of the YU faculty, to discuss the current climate in the Middle East. On Tuesday, students met with their local senators, and then went to Capitol Hill to lobby their congress members. At these lobbying sessions, students were able to use the skills taught during the conference to articulate the different issues they learned about.
Dr. Chaim Nissel, Dean of Students, who accompanied the YU delegation expressed that, “The AIPAC policy conference was very meaningful for our YU delegation of students, staff, faculty and administration. It was particularly powerful to see our students joining the over 4000 students onsite, to hear from President Berman and faculty and to see 2 of our students recognized as the advocates of the year.” While this trip was very empowering, YUPAC views this trip as the starting point for a stronger relationship between AIPAC and Yeshiva University, and hopes that it will be an impetus for more students to become more involved. As Jake Benyowitz stated, “This years YUPAC’s delegation was a success. Shanee [Markovitz] and I have had a vision of sending a large delegation and have worked hard over the year to make that happen. We see our delegation growing every year and we are not going to stop until that happens.”