By Yael Evgi
On December 5th, YUPAC, YU’s bipartisan Political Action Club, took about 100 students, 75 from our undergraduate student body and 25 from local high schools, to Washington, D.C. to lobby Congress regarding Israel. As we embarked on our journey at the early hour of 5 a.m., the excitement was already felt on the buses. For many high schoolers and college students, this was their first time lobbying Congress. Our agenda was to lobby many of our district representatives to support pro-Israel legislation. We advocated mainly for three legislative actions.
Firstly, we lobbied in support of House Resolution 727, affirming the U.S.’s bipartisan support for the state of Israel’s right to defend itself from terrorist attacks. This bill was recently brought to Congress amidst the current rising tensions and terrorist attacks. It has four important parts to it — condemning the illegal and indiscriminate firing of rockets at Israel, supporting Israel’s right to defend itself against terrorist groups, commending the U.S. commitment to Israel’s security, and reaffirming the U.S. concern towards the humanitarian situation in Gaza. This bill is imperative to keep the civilians of Israel safe and maintain stability in the region.
Secondly, we proposed signatures on House Resolution 3104 — Partnership Fund for Peace Act of 2019. This recent bipartisan bill has been introduced to Congress with the bipartisan intention of supporting direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The act would attempt to foster peace through creating dynamic business and economic opportunities, by bringing both Israelis and Palestinians together in these endeavors. The act will secure $50 million in funds for the first fiscal years subsequent to enactment, increasing to $250 million annually following those five years.
Thirdly, we thanked our representatives if they signed a bipartisan letter to Congress expressing concern over the recent United Nations security violation (UNSC Resolution 1701), which threatens security on Israel’s northern border.
We additionally proposed to keep Israel in the annual budget for foreign aid, and pushed for increased funds.
About two hours into the bus ride to D.C., group leaders and members of YUPAC’s board, began preparing how we would be lobbying. We arrived excited and inspired to speak to our congresspeople. Although this was just my second time lobbying, I also led a group, with a mix of high schoolers and college students. I told my group to understand that this was a conversation with our representatives, and they truly wish to hear from us. With that in mind, my peers and the high school students in my group, led incredible conversations in the two meetings we had.
For our first meeting, my group spoke with Brad Schneider, a Republican representative from Illinois (10th district). When we arrived at his office, we were greeted warmly, and we felt at home with Hanukkah decorations surrounding us and a mezuzah on his door. Representative Schneider, himself a Jew, appreciated our concerns and initiatives. He had already signed off on the bills we supported (and was amongst the first to sign), so instead, we spoke to Representative Schneider about his time in office and what his experience is like. We asked him what made him decide to become a politician, and he responded that it was exactly these issues. Previously, Representative Schneider was associated with AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee), the largest pro-Israel lobbying group, which promotes policies to Congress and the Executive Branch of the U.S. Representative Schneider expressed how important it is to keep doing what we do and fight for our beliefs.
Our second meeting took place in Representative Grace Meng’s office (NY, 6th District). Myself and three others from my group, are actually her constituents, which her office appreciated. Although Representative Meng herself couldn’t make the appointment, we were graciously heard by one her staffers. We were informed that Representative Meng had signed House Resolution 727 the day before! We spoke with the staffer about future prospects regarding the U.S.-Israel relationship. I was proud and impressed by the incredible peers and high school students in my group, as they led real conversations about peace prospects in the Middle East. We spoke about the Iron Dome, Israel’s northern and southern borders, and even the crisis in Syria. The staffer we spoke with was Representative Meng’s assigned staffer for national security. On her behalf, we were assured Representative Meng’s support of Israel, especially with her representation of the large Jewish community in Queens.
After the successful lobbying appointments my group had, we truly felt like we made a difference.
Thankfully, both representatives we visited had already signed the bills we came to lobby! However, the trip and appointments inspired both us and our representatives. They appreciated our presence, especially our young one, on Capitol Hill. It is not often that you will find high school and college students lobbying their representatives for something they’re truly connected to and concerned about.
Aderet Brenner,SCW ‘21, YUPAC board member, said, “I think this was a majorly successful trip, especially as a group leader. To watch high school and college students come together to raise their voices on issues that deeply matter to them is amazing. It was truly inspiring to watch students that would generally stay quiet in the group, taking lead on issues and lobby[ing] them to their congressmen and [w]omen. I wish that more students would take opportunities to come on trips like this and truly join the pro-Israel community with their actions.”
Although we had 100 students attend this trip, a large number in comparison to other clubs on campus, I think we should have had more. We attend a Zionist institution where a majority of the students claim they are pro-Israel, but how many of us are activists? We all speak about our concern, but how many of us actually voice it? Yeshiva University is a Modern Orthodox, pro-Israel institution, with a student body of nearly 2,700 students. Yet only 100 of us were present on this trip, voicing our concerns and beliefs. I believe many of us hold these true values and beliefs, but remain ignorant in the “busy-ness” of our lives. We allow others to do this integral work for us, instead of being active ourselves. We, the college students on campus, are the leaders of the next generation. We represent the dynamic changes within the world and current events. What will it take for everyone to stand up?
Photo: Students meeting Congressional representatives in D.C.