18,000 people packed the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in March 2019.
Bursting with enthusiasm, they were there for a collective purpose: to attend the annual American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference, and express bipartisan support for Israel. I happened to be 1 of the 18,000 attendees, and I too, was full of enthusiasm, especially since I had just returned from a trip to Israel that January.
Yet, my enthusiasm was also enveloped by an odd feeling of uneasiness. At first, I couldn’t comprehend why I felt that way. But by the end of the affair, I hit an epiphany. I felt uneasy because, during my time at the conference, I barely saw anyone who looked like me. There was a stark absence of Asian people. 18,000 attendees, and I counted less than 10 Asian-looking ones over the course of three days. Furthermore, hardly any of the speakers, be it at the main sessions, or the breakout sessions, discussed anything remotely resembling Asian-American outreach.
The paucity of Asian coverage, at a conference discussing the significance of Israel, a country that is located on the Asian continent, could not have been more conspicuous and ironic to me.
However, one does not have to attend the AIPAC conference to notice its dearth of Asian-American outreach. Its website alone depicts this concerning oversight. Indeed, under the “Connect and Communities” tab on its site, one will observe that although AIPAC has formed connections with a multiplicity of communities (as demonstrated by its designation of specific pages for respective groups), it has no established relationship with Asian-Americans.
Certainly, this neglect of Asian-Americans by AIPAC seems to be a perturbing phenomenon?
Nonetheless, this phenomenon is not unique to AIPAC alone. Across the board, Israeli advocacy groups have ignored engagement with the Asian-American community. At other similar conferences that I have attended, it is not uncommon for me to find myself being one of a few Asians (if not the lone Asian) in attendance. Even at UCLA, where the largest demographic of students is Asian, I am usually the token Asian at Israeli and Jewish-related events.
“But why Asian-Americans,” some might ask?
“Is engaging with the Asian-American community even particularly beneficial,” others might add?
Undoubtedly, these questions are crucial to our discourse. Nevertheless, the answers to them are–contrary to what some might expect–straightforward and simple.
To begin with, Asian-Americans are the fastest growing minority group within the United States. Their population has grown by approximately 70 percent since the 2000s, and this figure is further bolstered by an unprecedented influx of Asian immigration. Because of this, the Pew Research Center suggests that “Asians [will] become the largest immigrant group in the country [by] 2055.” This means that Asian-Americans will inevitably become a critical voting bloc (if they aren’t already) and possess the potential to have a significant influence on the health and vibrancy of future US-Israel relations.
From a sociocultural standpoint, it also seems sensible for pro-Israel groups to reach out to Asian-Americans. As with most Jewish-Americans, Asian-Americans tend to place a greater emphasis on the family than the self: family always comes first. This is in clear contrast to the majority of the American population, where individualism is prized as preeminent. Additionally, Jewish-Americans and Asian-Americans are generally educationally-driven. As an Asian, I see an uncanny resemblance between the stereotypes of harsh Jewish moms and Asian tiger moms pertaining to education. For this matter, most Jewish-Americans and Asian-Americans seem to enter similar industries post-college, mainly in the STEM, law, and business fields. Beyond these commonalities, the bulk of the Asian-American population also happen to live in close proximity with the Jewish-American population. Theoretically, forming bridges between the two groups should pose little difficulty.
Still, these opportunities have been disregarded.
In my experience, a common explanation that many groups give for this disregard is the overwhelming diversity within the Asian-American community. Many groups consider the endeavor to be impossible or too challenging. However, this explanation seems to forget the intrinsic veracity of Israel’s founding, which many believed to be a fool’s dream prior to 1948. An endeavor is only impossible if we believe it is impossible.
To reference David Ben-Gurion, “In Israel, in order to be a realist, you must believe in miracles…”
And, “if an expert says it can’t be done, get another expert.”
This past summer, I led a diverse group of Asian-American college students to Israel through Passages. Many of them knew little to nothing about the Israel-Palestinian conflict prior to the trip. But upon returning, most became informed and pledged to continue educating themselves about the subject, and some became willing advocates for Israel. From this experience, I learnt that outreach to Asian-Americans to garner support for Israel can be feasible.
Ultimately, I penned this column because I, as an Asian, believe that outreach to Asian-Americans is an endeavor of paramount urgency. To secure the positive continuity of US-Israel relations for the future, we need the support of Asian-Americans.
As Hillel the Elder once said: “If not you, who? If not now, when?”
When will pro-Israel groups reach out to Asian-Americans–if not now?