[by Shiela Steinman Wallace]
When more than 10,000 people gathered in Washington, D.C. from Sunday-Tuesday, May 22-24 for the annual AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) Policy Conference, Louisville was well represented.
Darcy and Sandy Berman, Connie and David Blue, Rabbi Stanley Miles and Dr. Barry Stoler. David Bloom too, was there representing the Indiana University AIPAC chapter. And three young adults, Emily Berman, Emily Benovitz and Daniel Ensign, all of whom are AIPAC employees, were there.
The Blues were only able to attend the session when Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu spoke. “Prime Minister Netanyahuy was very articulate about protecting Israel’s borders,” David Blue said, “in spite of what one reads in the papers.
The media concentrates on what’s wrong with Israel,” he continued. “We should concentrate on all the wonderful innovations they have made. Now they’re working on a possible substitute for oil, and if they’re successful, it will change the world.”
Blue reported that Netanyahu reminded the crowd that “every time they try to have peace with the Palestinians, the Palestinians turn Israel down, and as long as they have an association with Hamas, peace negotiations are not possible.”
“It’s important to understand,” Connie Blue added, “the Israelis don’t want to send their young soldiers to war. They want peace.”
Reacting to reports he has seen in recent newspapers, Rabbi Miles observed, “AIPAC is probably one of the most misunderstood organizations on the American scene. I don’t see it as a monolithic group pushing one agenda. I see it as people passionately committed to the survival fo the State of Israel and a deep and meaningful mutual relationship between the United States of America and the State of Israel.”
Rabbi Miles saw the conference as an opportunity to learn together with the body as a whole in the plenary sessions, and to pursue individual interests in the breakout sessions.
Rabbi Miles and Stoler, who traveled together, had originally planned on arriving at the conference later in the day on Sunday. When they learned that President Barak Obama would deliver an address on Sunday morning, they changed their travel plans so they could be there for the president’s speech.
“This was the first time I had seen President Obama in person,” Rabbi Miles said. “I walked into the meeting with questions, and my questions were answered to my satisfaction. … I think virtually everyone agrees with the notion of a two-state solution, but the question on minds of government and people of Israel, is what will this Palestinian state be and where will the borders be?
“President Obama set my mind at ease,” he said, by stating the borders would be negotiated, based on the 1967 borders with mutually agreed land swaps. Miles pointed out that the ’67 borders are problematic because they’re really the borders that were defined in 1949 and they are indefensible.
“I remember what Jerusalem was between 1949 and 1967,” Rabbi Miles continued, “and I can never fathom Israel going back to where Jerusalem was then. In this way I consider myself somewhat of a right-winger. I believe Jerusalem to be the eternal and indivisible capital of the Jewish people.”
To illustrate his point, Miles noted that there the Jeshurun Synagogue in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem is new because it has been rebuilt. It had to be rebuilt “because the Jordanians destroyed it when they had control of the old city. I don’t want to see any more holy places destroyed whether they’re Jewish or Christian or Muslim holy places. I can trust the government of Israel to scrupulously protect the holy places. I can’t trust anyone else.”
Stoler was not as impressed with President Obama. “I listened very carefully to Obama’s speech,” he said. “It was greeted with politeness,” but Stoler views it as a step backward. He questions whether a peace along the ’67 borders with negotiated land swaps was ever formally on the table and whether it could really be the basis for peace.
He was, however, greatly impressed with Prime Minister Netanyahu. “Netanyahu oozes confidence and strength,” Stoler said. “He was so frustrated and angry that he lectured the president.”
While Stoler though Netanyahu did a good job with his speech at the AIPAC Conference, the Louisvillian views the Prime Minister’s speech to the joint session of Congress the next day as “one of the finest in many years.”
For David Bloom, it was the break out sessions that made a strong impression. The sessions, led by scholars and AIPAC professionals, dealt with international affairs, the Israeli/American relationship, how Israel has contributed to technology and innovation and “how developments in the Middle East have impacted Israel and what Americans can do.”
Bloom attended a session that examined how the unrest sweeping the Arab world is affecting Iran. “The riots in Lebanon and Syria have changed Iran’s perspective,” he explained. It is now more difficult for Iran to work with Hezbollah.
On Tuesday, the delegates descended en masse on Capitol Hill to lobby their senators and representatives. Bloom said, the two big issues he learned about were continuing U.S. aid to Israel and tightening the sanctions against Iran.
Representating his university at the conference, Bloom accepted the Advocate of the Year Award for IU’s AIPAC chapter.
He plans to return to Washington in July for the AIPAC student conference.
In accordance with AIPAC’s policy, the three young adults who work for the organization declined to comment for this story.