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A Week of Education on a Controversial Issue

It’s hard to believe that a week ago today I was on my way to Washington DC for the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). The past week has been such a whirlwind of information gathering, very intense and thought-provoking conversations, and rewarding opportunities to form, and ultimately standby, my beliefs. As I boarded the bus with six of my peers from both Sarah Lawrence and SUNY Purchase at around this time a week ago, I had no idea what was in store for me.

A little background on my experience—I was raised with no religion, my family would volunteer on Christmas, but that was about it. Growing up I had a lot of Jewish friends and went to many Bar Mitzvahs and Shabbat dinners. When I went to college I sought a group with which to identify. I remembered fondly my experiences with Judaism and my Jewish friends in high school, and began to read books about Judaism and attend Hillel meetings on campus. After a few years of reading, attending meetings, and talking with people, I decided to begin the process of official conversion. This year I am on the board of Hillel at Sarah Lawrence and spend time planning events and providing support to other students on campus. The new president of AIPAC, Robert Cohen, invited student leaders from Westchester, his home, to attend the conference for free this year.

I must admit that before this conference I was fairly uneducated about the issues in the Middle East. I knew that this conference would at least help me understand one perspective on a very relevant and important issue, and I went into it understanding that there were many varying opinions out there. What I found at the conference was surprising; fellow students had told me that AIPAC is a radical organization that is prejudice towards Islamic nations and Arab people. I was told that it was a solely Jewish organization that lacked diversity and was not representative of the views of the American people on the issue of Israel. While I would say that attendance at the conference was overwhelmingly Jewish, I was surprised by the diversity and the messages of the speakers. People of different races, religions, and political beliefs all came together at the conference to show their support for the Jewish state of Israel.

Not only were the speakers diverse, they admitted to the fact that no nation is perfect. They know that Israel has made mistakes, but ask people to acknowledge the mistakes made by others against Israel also. The mission statement of AIPAC (below) does not condemn the right for Palestine to exist, but rather asks for a two state solution that recognizes Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. I will be honest and say that there is one part of this mission statement with which I do not agree, and that is the demilitarization of Palestine. If Israelis and Palestinians can come to a consensus on the territorial disputes that have plagued both their people for centuries now, I believe the Palestinians should have a right to defend their land against attacks from other countries in the Middle East should they arise. The mission statement of AIPAC is as follows:

“AIPAC’s staff and citizen activists educate decision makers about the bonds that unite the United States and Israel and how it is in America’s best interest to help ensure that the Jewish state is safe, strong and secure.

Cooperation between the two countries is advantageous for both nations. AIPAC urges all members of Congress to support Israel through foreign aid, government partnerships, joint anti-terrorism efforts and the promotion of a negotiated two-state solution—a Jewish state of Israel and a demilitarized Palestinian state.”

The main reason that was addressed at the conference for why the United States should stand with Israel is our common goal for the prevention of a nuclear Iran. Currently Iran claims that they use their nuclear facilities for clean energy purposes, but evidence of the enrichment of uranium and plutonium shows otherwise. As arguably the least corrupt democracy in the Middle East, Israel’s alliance with the United States shows a united and strong stance on this issue.

Israel also provides the United States with numerous technologies and other exports. However the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement has outwardly encouraged the boycott of Israeli products and technologies. Obviously most Israeli’s oppose this boycott, but they also claim that the boycott is anti-Semitic, which I agree with. Below is the “About” section from the BDS website and a video that argues against what they stand for.

“The broad consensus among Palestinian civil society about the need for a broad and sustained Campaign for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) resulted in the Palestinian Call for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel that was launched in July 2005 with the initial endorsement of over 170 Palestinian organizations. The signatories to this call represent the three major components of the Palestinian people: the refugees in exile, Palestinians under occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and the discriminated Palestinian citizens of the Israeli state.

The efforts to coordinate the BDS campaign, that began to grow rapidly since the 2005 Call was made public, culminated in the first Palestinian BDS Conference held in Ramallah in November 2007. Out of this conference emerged the BDS National Committee (BNC) as the Palestinian coordinating body for the BDS campaign worldwide.

The BNC’s mandate and role is:

To strengthen and spread the culture of boycott as a central form of civil resistance to Israeli occupation, colonialism and apartheid; To formulate strategies and programs of action in accordance with the 9 July 2005 Palestinian Civil Society BDS Call;
To serve as the Palestinian reference point for BDS campaigns in the region and worldwide;
To serve as the national reference point for anti-normalization campaigns within Palestine;
To facilitate coordination and provide support & encouragement to the various BDS campaign efforts in all locations.

The BNC’s main activities include:

Campaigning with BDS activists locally and worldwide by preparing and disseminating BNC statements; public speaking; organizing the annual Global BDS Action Day on 30 March (Palestinian Land Day);
Advocacy by briefing and lobbying policy makers; Monitoring & Rapid Response by means of BNC calls for action against projects and initiatives which amount to recognition of or cooperation with Israel’s regime of apartheid, colonialism and occupation (i.e., normalization);
Media Outreach in Palestine and abroad, based on a professional media strategy;
Coordination with BDS activists locally and worldwide, including preparation of regional and international organizing meetings and conferences;
Awareness Raising & Training activists and organizations about BNC analysis, standards and BDS campaign work; through workshops, BNC information materials and the BDS campaign website (www.bdsmovement.net)
Developing the BDS Campaign in Arab countries;
Research and BDS Strategy Development.”

 BDS Campaign - A Prologue to Genocide

 

This is a very difficult topic and I am still learning about these issues. I would love to sit down and have more conversations about it, but to be honest I have met a lot of resistance on campus when I have tried to have these conversations. I understand that people are going to be passionate about their opinions, but I wish people would be more willing to discuss it with an open mind, just so that I can gain a fuller understanding of the arguments for and against both sides. In my readings and experiences with people, both before I left and after I returned from the AIPAC conference, I have found that people who support Israel do just that—they support the things that Israel does right (democracy, agriculture, LGBTQ rights, women’s rights) and admit to the things it does wrong. The arguments people have given against Israel, however, are very negative, not supporting the good things Palestinians have to offer (which I’m sure exist, but I haven’t seen in my research), but rather focusing on all the things Israel does that is wrong. If we look at human rights violations that occur throughout the Middle East, many of them are equally as bad, or far worse than those that occur in Israel. And as I said, Israel admits to its faults, and aims towards a peaceful, two state solution.

Other Interesting Sources on this Topic

J Street Mission Statement

J Street is a more progressive Pro-Israel group that aims for more peaceful negotiations in the Middle East.

Jewish Voices for Peace Mission Statement

Jewish Voices for Peace is a Pro-Peace organization that does not support Israel or Palestine, but rather holds both accountable for Human Rights Violations

Ben Shapiro at UCLA 

Further arguments that BDS movement is anti-Semedic 

Campus Activist Lindy Mabuya at AIPAC Policy Conference

Argument against calling Israel an apartheid state from a South African who lived in apartheid South Africa.

Peres Soccer Story

Proof that with a little effort, peace is possible. 

Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu at the AIPAC Policy Conference

In this speech, the prime minister of Israel addresses many of the most pressing issues plaguing the Jewish State of Israel. 

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 DISCUSSION
#1 POSTED BY Collette Sosnowy, 03/09 10:43 PM

Hannah, you obviously gained a lot of information from the conference and it's great to see you engaging with it in a thoughtful way. Your point about some peoples' unwillingness to have a dialogue speaks to Matt's interest in promoting civil discourse online and your post is a great example of an invitation to do that. Thanks for sharing your experience.

#2 POSTED BY guest guest, 03/11 12:59 AM

Hannah, what a phenomenal experience. I think translating this into an online medium with the intention of promoting civil discourse online, as it appears others are doing through video as you have shown, would be really interesting. Have you considered making a short video of your own in trying to mitigate resistance regarding the topic of Judaism, which you are clearly passionate about? - Ryan

#3 POSTED BY guest guest, 02/18 10:38 AM

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