Three heady days and nights at the AIPAC National Policy Conference in Washington DC. Over 7000 people gathered together to work to ensure the safety of Israel and help deepen the relatonship between the United States and Israel. I invited my mother Linda to join me for the week (my wife needed to be home with the kids); we had 19 others in the Congregation Or Ami delegation.
What did we learn?
• From US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, that the relationship between the US and Israel is rock solid, that the US is deeply concerned about the possibility that Iran will acquire nuclear capability, and that friends can disagree without having to worry about the relationship itself;
• From Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, that Israel is very, very concerned about a nuclear Iran, that Israel will retain the rift to defend itself no matter what, that the Holocaust is still very much a motivating factor in his political outlook, and that he can be a charismatic speaker without comparison;
• From Kadimah party leader (and former Israeli Foreign Minister) Tzipi Livni, that Israel must be democratic and Jewish, that by Jewish she is pointing to a pluralistic vision of Judaism, that the two state solution is the only solution, and that she would make an incredible Prime Minister of Israel.
• From Tony Blair, former Prime Minister of Great Britian and current leader of the Quartet, that the Quartet and others are helping to make the steady progress in building judicial, political, military and economic institutions in Palestine, that there is much more positive happening behind the scenes that don’t make it into the news, and that in making life better for the Palestinians – it’s in the details – will make life better for Israelis, and that “the two state solution begins not with a state of land but a state of mind.”
• From Knesset Member Shlomo Molla, that he walked out of Ethiopia into Sudan to be flown “on wings of eagles” on his first ever airplane ride to safety in Israel, that this experience of being brought home transformed him, that his work helping other Ethiopian immigrants led him to be invited and elected to serve in the Knesset, and that we who gave tzedakah to fund Operations Moses and Solomon did a mitzvah without compare for him and his people;
• From the IDF Surgeon General Col. Dr. Ariel Bar who was among the first people to bring aid to the victims of Haiti; the Detroit Baptist pastor Reverend Dr. Deedee Coleman who spoke of her love of Israel; and Senators Barbara Boxer, Lindsey Graham, Charles Schumer; Wyoming Congresswoman Cynthia Lummis (with whom we had the pleasure of dining with at the Gala dinner table); from Alan Dershowitz who shined light onto the campaign to delegitimize Israel; from the countless thousands who gathered at the conference, that Israel is loved, respected, and cherished by so many, so many.
Uncomfortable questions still remain:
– How do we bring Israelis and Palestinians together to build bridges toward peace?
– If Israelis speak with vast diversity on the most difficult of topics including war, peace, security and the Palestinians – in their Knesset, in their papers and tv, on the street – why do those who want to offer more than lip service about the rights of Palestinians and to voice concern about how Palestinians are treated, feel stiffled within the American Jewish community?
– Why, with so many in the American Jewish community still concerned about them, isnt there more open conversation about the difficult challenge of settlements, and whenever any speakers begin to talk about these hard issues, there is only tepid applause.
– Why don’t we talk more about the life of the Palestinians, an why, when speakers do talk about the need to improve their lives because it will ultimately improve the lives of the Israelis, is there primarily silence in response?
Still, I learned so much. And we had a sizeable delegation. Under the leadership of Patti Jo Wolfson, Congregation Or Ami brought 21 members and guests to AIPAC, representing 6% of our population (a large 3000-member congregation would need to bring 180 delegates to approach our high level of participation). We even rescheduled our Bar Mitzvah year celebration in part so that delegates (and the rabbi) could attend both.
I’m glad we brought this evenly balanced delegation of democrats and republicans, because our concern for Israel transcends party lines. AIPAC is a much needed, very significant organization, doing the important work of securing Israel’s future. It was a heady three days of learning and thinking. Will you join us next year?