The issue of settlements wasn’t focused on at the AIPAC conference I just attended – It was as if the issue almost didn’t exist. Setting aside that the settlements are a major discussion point in the Pro-Israel world, coming right after a J-Street conference which seemed to focus solely on the settlements and Palestinians, the just about omitting of Israeli governance over Judea and Samaria or the West Bank was especially glaring.
This week I had the privilege of chaperoning twenty five of my students to an AIPAC run Summit for high school students in Washington, DC. The Schusterman High School Summit is an annual conference attended by over 400 politically active Pro-Israel students. The Summit is impressive. It is well run with high caliber speakers, sessions and top notch training – exactly what we’ve come to expect from AIPAC. At the conclusion of the Summit, the 400 students lobbied their member of Congress on the issues they studied the previous two days. I wrote that I was privileged to chaperone my students to the Summit because as an educator there are few better experiences that I can offer my students.
Students learned about the importance of bipartisan support of Israel, American military aid to Israel and the dangers Iran, Hamas, and Hizbollah pose to Israel, America and global stability. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict was mentioned only in the context of these aforementioned issues. What was hardly mentioned was Israeli control of Judea and Samaria, Israeli treatment of Palestinians, or possible solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Full disclosure – I live in Judea and Samaria, the world slanderously calls me a settler. I don’t define myself by where I live, rather by what I do, I’m an educator. Nothing would make me happier than to educate my students about the importance of continued Israeli governance of Judea and Samaria and of the need to expand existing “settlements” and build new Jewish towns in Judea and Samaria. I could have offered an “Ask the Settler Anything” session and I’m sure a few hundred teens would’ve attended. AIPAC didn’t ask me and I didn’t offer. Had there been interest or AIPAC would’ve asked me to host such a session, I would’ve declined. Focusing on settlements would’ve conflicted with everything we had gathered in Washington to accomplish.
AIPAC aims towards achieving a strong bipartisan US-Israel relationship through having America offer tangible support of Israel in the form of military aid, technological partnerships and intelligence sharing. With the strong values America and Israel share, members of Congress are generally receptive to AIPAC members’ lobbying. The US-Israel relationship has enjoyed consistent bipartisan support in Congress. Settlements, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and everything that comes with it are ancillary to AIPAC’s goals. AIPAC isn’t trying to prescribe to Israel’s democratically elected government how it should govern. Whether AIPAC members agree or disagree with current Israeli policy is irrelevant. America and Israel share values and it is in American national security interests for it to support a strong Israel. AIPAC would never consider turning Congress or the President against Israel in the form of minimizing aid because it didn’t agree with Israeli policies. Minimizing aid to Israel would weaken Israel and harm American security interests.
As an educator and a settler who should want to see Pro-settlement education taking place in America, I’m grateful to AIPAC for focusing on what is important for Young Jewish Americans to learn about – supporting a strong US-Israel relationship. AIPAC understands the interest and relevance of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to American Jews, but as an organization focused on gaining tangible support for the US-Israel relationship, understands that it can leave education to educators and it should focus on its core mission of supporting the US-Israel relationship. They do an amazing job at it and I’m glad my students saw it firsthand.