I had a wonderful time at the 2018 AIPAC Policy Conference last week, the largest gathering of pro-Israel Americans in the country. The event was especially meaningful to me this year because my wife and ninth grade daughter came with me to what was their first ever AIPAC Policy Conference. It was fascinating to hear different perspectives from so many speakers about our holy Start-Up Nation, Medinat Yisrael. As a committed religious Zionist, I believe it is important for all of us to participate in an organization which truly makes a difference in pro-Israel advocacy in the halls of Congress. The issues that were at the forefront of the lobbying agenda this year were stopping Iran, securing foreign aid and fighting the BDS movement. These were issues upon which everyone in attendance could agree. Democrats and Republicans, Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, Reconstructionist and unaffiliated Jews, and non-Jews all gathered together for one purpose, to support the state of Israel.
Time and time again during the conference, AIPAC speakers stressed how important bipartisanship is to their mission. For strategic purposes, it is critical to lobby all members of congress and not side with one particular party for the obvious reason that the party that you support may lose power in the future and it is important to have friends in Congress regardless of who controls the House and the Senate. I also found that this year there was a focus on reaching out to progressives specifically. To that end, many of the speakers at the Conference were pro-Israel and progressive politically. Much has been written as of late about how support for Israel has become increasingly partisan, with support from Democrats waning. AIPAC clearly wishes to reverse this trend, if it is indeed true.
I was inspired by powerful speeches from Ron Dermer, Mike Pence and Nikki Haley. I was inspired by the strong support for the state of Israel from the Prime Minister of Albania and the President of Guatemala. I was inspired by hearing about Chaim Herzog’s ripping up the “Zionism is Racism” resolution at the United Nations and by reliving Natan Sharansky’s road to freedom.
However, what most inspired me was the achdut, the unity, at the conference. It is true that AIPAC leaders requested unity at the conference for strategic purposes, as a means to a political end. But unity is much more than that. Unity is an end to itself. Face it – at times we Jews have a hard time getting along with each other. We are so passionate about our beliefs that we often find ourselves talking at each other and not to each other. Lately, it often seems that we are afraid to come together for a common cause for fear of giving an impression that we legitimize someone else’s viewpoint. I am an orthodox Rabbi and there are profound differences between my belief system and that of my conservative and reform colleagues. However, I was so happy that we could all sit in a room at an AIPAC Rabbinic lunch and find common ground regarding our support of Israel. We could all sit in a room and listen politely to Isaac Herzog, Tzipi Livni and Naftali Bennett, even though they represent diverse Israeli political parties. We showed respect for those with whom we may disagree.
I attended some breakout sessions at the conference where the speakers were individuals with very different ideological and political views than me, but I enjoyed hearing other perspectives, and my own faith and my own views were not shaken from this exposure. The AIPAC convention was proof that we don’t have to be afraid to unite for a common cause, that we don’t have to always be such ideological purists that we can’t talk to each other. There was so much positivity in the air being in a hall celebrating the state of Israel with over 18,000 people with very different political and religious viewpoints. And that is so inspiring!