The annual AIPAC Policy Conference held in Washington, DC this past March was the first AIPAC Conference attended by a current cohort of the Wexner Israel Fellowship. Cohorts usually go to Washington over our Spring Break to meet with politicians and policy makers, which gives Israeli Fellows powerful insight into how the US Government works. This year was special because we decided to time the trip to overlap with the AIPAC Policy Conference, allowing the seven of us, all professionals working in different departments of the Israeli government, to see this powerful display of Jewish American support for Israel up close for the first time.
So we landed on a beautiful DC morning and headed straight to the convention center, where massive amounts (and very loud) pro-Palestinian protesters greeted us, reminding us of the reality we thought we had left behind for the year. Being used to small-scale Israel, we were struck by the magnitude of this amazing enterprise and the impeccable efficiency behind it. Watching Israel celebrated by nearly 15,000 people, including so many young people, was special and exciting. The energy made me feel reassured that the core of American Jewry will be there for us, even in the next generation.
Watching reports on Israeli television, I was always struck by AIPAC’S ability to put Israel “on the map” and in the heart of Washington for three whole days.
In addition to cutting edge sessions on Israeli-US relations, Iran, Palestinians, and the greater Middle East, I went to a panel challenging people to ask the toughest questions about Israel. Israel’s domestic challenges, especially social justice issues, raise much interest and concern among American Jewry – this was getting interesting!
I was impressed by the bipartisan support from both House and Senate Members, representatives of the African American and Latino communities, expressing undivided support for the state of Israel. This made me realize that regardless of the relationships between the two governments, there is a deeper bond between the two peoples, and many of the House Members and Senators were actually there fulfilling their constituents’ direct wishes. Displayed panoramically on huge video screens, they pledged to guarantee Israel’s security.
On the ground level where the human basic necessities (food/Kosher/lots of it) were uniting all Jewish factions, the AIPAC Village allowed mingling and accidental encounters where almost everybody met at least one person they knew. For me it was some people reminding me of work – Members of Knesset Nitzan Horowitz, a long-time friend , Limor Livnat, Meirav Michaeli, Zeev Elkin and Minister Naftali Bennett.
At the end of three days, when the State of Israel’s security had been debated from every possible angle, seeing Prime Minister Netanyahu reflected from tens of gigantic screens saying that both Israel and the Palestinians will benefit from peace — gave me hope that tables are finally starting to turn and peace may become more than an eternal aspiration.
Upon our request, we also had a meeting scheduled with a senior J Street staff member in DC, for a deeper understanding of American advocacy for Israel. A bit to the left, a bit to the right or somewhere in the middle, turns out that being pro-Israel in America is something that can be acted out from many places. AIPAC and J Street, I felt, were not divided on the goal of reaching a two state solution and the well-being of the State of Israel. It seems that the way to get there is to ask what is causing the polarization between these two organizations amongst American Jewry, and it made me wonder why is the space in the middle is not filled.
What seems to me most important is that difficult and healthy conversation between North American and Israeli Jews will go on and never stop. I know for me and for the Wexner Israel Fellowship Class 25, it has just begun.
Nira Lamay Rachlevsky, a current Israel Fellow (Class 25) working towards a Masters in Public Administration at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, was born and raised in Holon, Israel, to a religious family that immigrated to Israel from Iran. Nira is an attorney working as the Legal Advisor for three parliamentary committees in the Knesset: Science and Technology, Rights of the Child and Immigration, and Absorption and Diaspora Affairs. Nira has several law degrees: Hebrew University of Jerusalem Law School (LL.B; Dean’s List of 1995; Tel-Aviv University Law School: Executive LLM program in Public Law (Magna Cum Laude); and Northwestern University School of Law (LLM, cum laude). Nira can be reached at email@example.com.