At the beginning of junior year, I became a fellow for Write On For Israel, a program that uses the lens of journalism to educate students on how to become pro-Israel advocates. Not only has the program given me a greater understanding of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict through monthly seminars, but I recently had the opportunity to represent Write On at the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) High School Summit.
I felt nervous attending such an important event; after all, the goal of AIPAC is to maintain and strengthen the U.S-Israeli relationship through direct involvement in America’s political process. But Write On has given me a nuanced understanding of the conflict, and taught me to sift through the facts and the fallacies to develop my perspectives on Israel, so I felt ready.
On Oct. 29, for the first time in my life, I journeyed aboard Amtrak to attend the three-day conference in Washington D.C. Upon arrival, over 400 student representatives packed into the large conference room and the summit began with two lectures—“The Case For Alliance” and “The Strength In Alliance.” These programs consisted of AIPAC officials speaking to the organization’s decision to remain unaffiliated with a political party. During the latter program, the speaker discussed what AIPAC has accomplished as a direct result of their political activism for Israel, while maintaining their bipartisan stance. I inquired about the most difficult obstacles faced by AIPAC because of their bipartisanship. I felt my question was dodged and instead, the speaker reiterated that AIPAC’s only agenda is to advocate for Israel through the American political system, not to discuss their own ideology on Israel’s issues. The speaker noted that AIPAC did, however, make an exception for the Iran Nuclear Deal, where they strongly encouraged Congress to abstain from supporting it as it was an existential threat to Israel.
Prior to the summit, my experience with Israel advocacy had only been with re-education on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and shifting the social perception on Israel. I went into the conference in hopes of broadening my activism on the political spectrum. To do so, I decided to attend seminars that would help me enhance my communication skills, so I could clearly articulate my case for Israel. At the workshop on public speaking, I was taught the importance of developing my written speech, gesticulating properly and efficiently relaying my message to my audience. The AIPAC speaker guided the lesson towards people in our political system and how to influence them. I, along with the twenty or so students at the forum, was instructed to write a brief three-minute speech about what brought us to AIPAC and to present it shortly after. While I was not chosen to share my story, I objectively critiqued other students’ speeches and put my own advice into practice. Afterwards, I ventured down the hallway to attend the seminar on incorporating writing with Israel advocacy. While many of the ideas discussed were already taught during Write On sessions, I did learn about the importance of writing to my congresswoman, Kathleen Rice, and developing a relationship that I could call upon if need be. Forums like this allowed me to take a glimpse at how to expand my Israel advocacy with politics, teaching me the “do’s” and the “don’ts” of advocating for Israel in a political environment.
On the last day of the conference, the student representatives went to Capitol Hill to meet with congressional staffers of their respective congresspeople. The day prior, we were explained the crucial topic points to discuss with the members of Congress and had lobbying roleplays as preparation for the meetings. AIPAC representatives thoroughly discussed the threat posed by the Iran Nuclear Deal, the importance of anti-BDS legislation and the threat of Hizbollah to Israel. After walking away from the hours of preparation, I felt confident in my understanding of the topics and my ability to lobby for them. Each group chose students to introduce themselves and their cause, speak for each topic point and someone to conclude the meeting.
The United States and Israel have practically been allies since Israel’s inception. AIPAC highlights the dual-benefits that both countries gain from that relationship and ensures that America is standing beside Israel. AIPAC: High School Summit prepared me to enter the world of politics while advocating for Israel. My views on Israel were strengthened as each member of AIPAC was diligent in explaining their opinions and opposing viewpoints. Representing a program as incredible as Write On For Israel, and having developed the necessary skill set to best advocate for Israel, I know that I will be a successful pro-Israel political activist on and beyond my school campus.
Note: The AIPAC Conference was closed to the press and no speaker could be quoted or recorded, in whole or in part.