By Evelyn Tarnovsky
On Sunday, March 26th, I stepped foot into the Walter E. Washington Convention Center to attend my first (of hopefully many) American Israel Public Affairs Committee annual Policy Conference. The theme of the 2017 conference was “Many Voices, One Mission”, which was very fitting for not only my personal experience, but with what’s going on in the outside world today.
The political climate is boiling in Washington right now, and as reiterated multiple times through the conference, politics are highly divided between party lines. Walking into this conference, I didn’t know what sort of ideological atmosphere to expect. But, as I quickly learned, this conference had nothing to do with party politics.
The first general session opened with a video, showing many people with completely different preferences (whether it be Snapchat vs. Instagram or Ohio State vs. Michigan) all getting ready to attend Policy Conference. This video, shortly after accompanied with the back-to-back singings of the Star Spangled Banner and the Hatikvah, made it clear that while all 18,000 people attending the conference came from different backgrounds, beliefs, and practices, there was one thing we all were: Pro-Israel.
And it is true, there were so many individuals in the convention center, and even more at home, who are Pro-Israel and truly dedicated to her safety and the continuing alliance between USA and Israel. But, as the theme states, each individual had a different voice. This was evident from the breakout sessions I attended, which I was able to choose from hundreds of options via the AIPAC PC17 app.
One session that truly exemplified the “many voices” at Policy Conference was “Power Play: Women and Politics.” This session consisted of a panel of 6 successful and pro-Israel women, all who had different backgrounds. This panel included AIPAC President Lillian Pinkus, the first female president of the lobbying group in over a decade, Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), the first Latina elected to Congress, and Kathleen Rice (D-NY).
While these women, and the other panelists, all came from different parties and backgrounds, their inspiring stories about the difficulties of rising up the political ladder as women and maintaining their pro-Israel identities throughout their lives was a valuable life lesson. We all have different components to our identities, whether they be liberal or conservative, feminist or environmentalist. Having that intersectionality does not mean we have to give up anything about our Pro-Israel beliefs. In fact, the most important lesson I learned at this conference is that all 18,000 people in attendance can use the identities they have to further their agenda as Pro-Israel Americans.
This message was not only present in the conference, but in the 30 person delegation sent from the University of Illinois. Included in this group were student senators, IlliniPAC members and students involved with Hillel and Chabad. So, while the demographics of group ranged from opposite ends of the political and religious spectrum, we were all Pro-Israel. I think that’s the beauty of attending Policy Conference. You get to discuss your opinions, network, and form relationships with so many different kinds of people. And it could be nerve-wracking at times, because as so many of us know, discussing politics could go wrong oh-so quick. But, in the end, AIPAC wasn’t about politics. It was about strengthening people’s perceptions about Israel, learning more about the beautiful and vibrant country, and how we as Americans can unite to protect and support Israel.
Check out some highlights of our trip:
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