One of the most impressive moments of the AIPAC conference was when they brought out 193 university student council presidents onto the stage. It seemed like a brilliant strategy to me; each of those presidents represented a relationship that AIPAC was building for the future. I'm sure there will be high percentage of those presidents who go on to very influential futures.
The following is a bit of insight into how AIPAC goes about building those relationships. It was sent to us by an intern in a Congressional office in the Houston area. They attended an "official briefing on the U.S.-Israel alliance" that AIPAC held for congressional interns. It was focused on how to become "a leader of campus" and as the author points out "making the students feel special and powerful." The names of the participants have been changed.
I was asked if I wanted to go, and although hesitant, I said yes. I wanted to attend out of curiosity, and through the description, I thought (from the description of the event) that it would be an event where they gave students information on how to hone in their leadership skills.
I walked in at 1:25, and found several people sitting down, all females, at an oval conference table, and to my right, a young girl stood by a table with snacks and name tags. I introduced myself and she gave me a brief questionnaire to fill out, and told me to get myself snacks and drinks.
The questionnaire asked for contact information, such as phone numbers and emails. I believe the first question was something like, ‘How interested are you in the Israeli-American relationship?’ The choice was ‘very, little, not at all’. I circled ‘Very.’ The next question was something like, ‘How interested are you in helping out AIPAC (or was it joining? I can’t remember.)’ I put down my own answer “maybe.” I looked up at the girl and told her, it depends on what AIPAC is doing. She smiled and said, “go right ahead.” The third question was also about AIPAC, but I can’t remember what it is. However, I put down a “maybe” to that one too.
I took a seat at the table, and we all made small talk, as we waited for other interns to show up. I kept text messaging Keith frantically, to see where he was. It was 1:45, and still no sign of him. I found out that of the seven people that were there, one Intern was from Senator Bailey Hutchinson’s office. No surprise there. She’s very pro-Israel. There was an Israeli girl there too, who was interning at the Israeli embassy. Everyone else was working for AIPAC in one way or the other. The girl by the snacks was a student from A&M, and she was the Intern for AIPAC, and would subsequently get up to the podium to make a small speech.
The AIPAC Intern, (I’m so bad with names), said 13 people did RSVP, but that perhaps the weather was keeping them away. After Keith walked in, they decided to go ahead with the program, and not wait any further for the others. No one else showed up during the event.
The AIPAC Intern, talked about how disappointed she was with the Texas A&M college culture, describing “everybody there is closed-minded and conservative.” At one point she said, ‘if you asked them their opinion on something, you would get the same answer from everybody.’ She said other things to the same effect, that there is no diversity of thought at A&M. (The AIPAC workers presented themselves as middle-of-the- road, and pointed out that many of its members left AIPAC accusing it of being too liberal, i.e. not being pro-Israeli enough. This exodus from AIPAC happened during one of the Israeli-Arab wars.)
They stressed over and over again, that AIPAC was an American organization, “to be American is to be pro-Israeli,” and also, to be pro-Israeli is to be pro-American. AIPAC is high off of its “power.” It sounded cheesy, listening to them, but the reality is, that they are very powerful.
The AIPAC intern said that she was disappointed to know there weren’t any pro-Israeli groups on her campus, so she started one. And she said that when she started one, she got her Congressman’s attention, and he congratulated her on the efforts. She said, she was surprised to learn, that if you are with a pro-Israel group, or are pro-Israel, people will listen to you, and most importantly you will have the ears of policymakers, and more importantly the ears of the “powerful” policymakers.
Now I’d like to know who the Congressman for the A&M area is, that he took his time out to congratulate a student for opening up a student group, because that’s not something very extraordinary in itself.
She said that no other student organization can give their students access to such powerful people, and that politicians pay attention to your opinions for real, not just listen and then forget. She said something like, ‘As you embark on your own political journey and political careers, it’s important to keep in mind, that being pro-Israeli can help you tremendously.’
My reaction: uhhhhhhhhh….ok. I looked around at the others, but that comment didn’t faze them, it only seemed strange to me. I looked over at Keith, and tried to read his face, but was unsuccessful.
The AIPAC intern asked us how many of us use email, cell phones and text messaging. Everyone raised their hands. She said, if there were no Israel, then you wouldn’t have these three modern devices to use, because they were invented in Israel, by Israelis. She said that Israel is very important when it comes to technology, and if Israel every ceases to exist, she cannot imagine what the repercussions would be. She said Israel has invented many other modern technology to use, and is in the process of building, but she did not have enough time to go into detail here.
Then an AIPAC lady got up and gave her little speech. I must say, it was good. She started off with having us imagine, to when we were little and our teacher took us out to the playground. Then she asked a question, “How did you know it was time to go back in?” The audience answered, ‘the teacher told us to.’ She said, ‘In Israel, a siren sounds, and the teachers have 13 seconds to take the children back in to safety.’ She stressed how important it was that we tell our congresspersons, to sign the aid package to Israel, and increase the aid. She said that to us, in the audience, 2.5 billion dollars a year is a lot, but that is only 20% of the total defense budget of Israel. And only Israel knows how tough it is to live with daily rocket attacks coming from neighbors bent on destroying them. She also said that the 2.5 billion in aid that Israel receives is 1-2 percent of the total foreign aid the United States gives. Now this is incredulous, she goes on to say that with that money, Israel purchases M16s, along with other things, and hence helps out the American economy.
Keith had a lot of questions about Israel. Like, why was that part of the world and place chosen for Israel to be created? I answered that, and said, that the Jewish people claim a right to what is Israel proper because God in their Bible promises the land to them. There was a small minority living in what is now Israel, that were Jewish, and many of the eastern European Jews, and some western European Jews started to migrate, and once they were a significantly strong number, clashes took place and the British declared that the Jews will have their own country. Then, of course fighting broke out, and the struggle continues to this day. I asked them, if what I said was right, and they said “yes,” and some nodded in agreement.
Keith also asked a very important question. He said why United States has to defend Israel, because that creates tension in that region. And perhaps, if the United States stepped out of the conflict, the Israelis will better be able to solve their problem with their neighbors. AIPAC answered, that some people in Israel believe that, too. But then, the conversation was brought back to how AIPAC does not endorse policy. It does not have policy-making decisions, nor does it dictate policy. It’s just simply put, pro-Israeli. They do not tell Israel or the United States what to do.
They were very openly pushy about Keith wanting to open up a Pro-Israeli student organization at Howard University at Washington D.C. (Keith is here for the summer.) Keith said that the idea wouldn’t catch on, because their focus is on civil rights and it is a predominantly black community. An AIPAC lady jumped in to say that Israel had to deal with its own civil rights issues, when the Ethiopian Jews were rescued from Ethiopia, and that he should open up a pro-Israel group from that angle, and he will by surprised by the interest.
Before closing the event, they stressed again and again, that we (the interns) should encourage our congresspersons to vote on the HR Bill to divest away from Iran, to vote for the aid package to Israel, and to increase the aid.
They were very pushy about the event in DC, all paid trip, in which we would get to meet “powerful” people, and make alliances for our own political careers.
Perhaps, Keith might go, he attends university there. Hutchinson’s intern seemed very interested in opening up a pro-Israel student organization, and attending the event. AIPAC said it would help. The embassy Intern will be attending university at San Marcos, and seemed interested in doing the same. They said that Houston was a city which didn’t have a lot of pro-Israel presence, and that we as student leaders can help in doing that at our campuses. She said that we would be surprised to learn how many Israeli and Jewish Professors are in the Science and Math departments at universities all across the United States. If we went to them and requested that they announce about the organization to the students, then the professors more than often, are happy to inform their students and encourage them to participate in the group.
I was surprised that they didn’t mention the “Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East,” argument, but it was all about making the students feel special and powerful.
Oh, and they also said something like, the fact that you are here, already shows, that you have leadership potential, and that AIPAC can make that journey easy.