WHEN OVER 13,000 DELEGATES from across the United States descended upon Washington, D.C. for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual Policy Conference, three Louisvillians, Sandy Berman, Cantor David Lipp and Ben Koby were among them. At the conference, they heard from world leaders, learned about pressing issues and met with national legislators.
Cantor Lipp said Vice President Joe Biden “spoke beautifully, personally and passionately. He was very effective, but one could say he said what we wanted to hear, which was the United States is not bluffing as far as Iran is concerned.”
One breakout session Cantor Lipp found particularly interesting was about the Foreign Aid Bill. The session didn’t spend much time focusing on the dollars that go to Israel, he explained, because the bill must be considered as a whole. Legislators must either vote to approve the entire package or to reject it.
“One could argue that aid to Israel is different than aid to Tanzania – it’s more of a strategic investment,” he explained, but since it is considered as a whole, “AIPAC needs to lobby for the entire bill.
Whenever he could, Cantor Lipp took advantage of the opportunity to “meet all sorts of people you wouldn’t otherwise meet.” He also enjoyed the entertainment which included a concert with Josh Nelson, Michelle Citrin and a young Ethiopian woman who sang Hatikvah in Amharic.
At dinner, AIPAC did a roll call of congressmen and senators in attendance that night, and Cantor Lipp said he was impressed by the great number of legislators who were in attendance. It attests to AIPAC’s strength and the effectiveness of its lobbying efforts.
All of the delegates were briefed on AIPAC’s priorities and spent part of their time on Capitol Hill meeting with and lobbying legislators. “The basic idea, Cantor Lipp said, “is to create, maintain and nurture relationships with Capitol Hill.”
For some legislators, that means thanking them for their support. For others, it is more complicated. Issues must be explained and the lobbyists must ask for support.
Cantor’s first meeting was with Sen. Rand Paul, who spent some time with the AIPAC group despite a busy schedule and heavy demand from other groups that wanted to lobby him about protecting their special interests from the cuts mandated by sequestration.
“Rand Paul is considered to be a challenge by AIPAC,” Cantor Lipp said. “He was on record before we met with him saying, ‘Israel has a better economy than we do. We need to be strong supporters of Israel, but Israel doesn’t need the money and we can’t afford to borrow to give aid.”
While he disagrees with Paul, Cantor said, “I was impressed with his depth of knowledge about the situation.” He recognizes the threat Iran poses, but is not eager to go to war. Paul is also bothered that the U.S. provides aid to Israel’s enemies to create a balance of power. He singled out Egypt, saying we should stop giving Egypt military aid until its president, Mohamed “Morsi is ready to say in English and Arabic, ‘I support the Camp David Accords,’ which he has not done.”
Cantor Lipp also spent about five minutes with Sen. Mitch McConnell, and he, Berman and Koby talked with John Yarmuth as well.
BBYO partners with AIPAC for the Policy Conference, and Louisville’s Ben Koby, shaliach (vice president of Jewish community service and Israel advocacy) for Drew Corson AZA, was one of 60 teens chosen to attend. BBYO paid the teens’ conference fees.
“I learned a lot,” Koby said. At one breakout session, he said, “I learned about the relationship between Israel and Azerbaijan. Apparently, they’re very close allies, especially in regard to Iran. Azerbaijan is one of the top providers of oil to Israel.”
In another session, Koby heard author Gill Troy speak about “America’s fight against Zionism as Racism.” They examined the history of the scurrilous claim and how it is being used today by Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran. The more often and more forcefully someone repeats an untruth, the more people believe it.
Koby was impressed with the array of leading politicians who spoke at the Plenary. One who made a big impression on was an Israeli mountain climber who was “90 feet away from reaching the summit of Mt. Everest, when he found a Turkish mountain climber in a crevice.” The Israeli decided to risk his own life to save the Turk before attempting to reach the summit.
He also heard from several Israeli soldiers, including two or three who worked on Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system; and an Ethiopian farmer who learned advanced agriculture techniques in Israel and then returned to Ethiopia and is now teaching his neighbors.
“Being on Capitol Hill is an incredible experience,” Koby said. He had the opportunity to meet Sen. McConnell, although the meeting was cut short when the senator was called to the floor for a vote.