[by Shiela Steinman Wallace]
When more than 7,500 supporters of Israel descended upon Washington, D.C. for the AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) 2010 Policy Conference there were seven Louisvillians among them: Rabbi Stanley Miles; Darcy, Sandy and Emily Berman; Gary Anderson, Barry Stoler and USY representative Amy Frieder. Frieder was one of only 20 teens from across the country selected to represent USY at the conference.
Rabbi Miles found it “both exhilarating and overwhelming to be in a meeting with nearly 8,000 people, mostly of the Jewish faith who are committed to the state of Israel. … There was also a large contingent from the Christian community who enthusiastically support the Jewish State.”
“It was an extraordinarily impressive event,” Stoler said. “It was orchestrated beautifully and professionally and all the right people were there.”
“The quality of the speakers was incredible,” Rabbi Miles observed. “They included Ambassador Michalel Oren, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Alan Dershowitz, Tony Blair, Tzipi Livni, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – all live and in person.”
It was the very public differences between Clinton and Netanyahu that captured headlines. “Hillary Clinton,” Sandy Berman said, “made public the disagreement the Obama administration has with Israel with respect to the settlements. Prime Minister Netanyahu was on the opposing side, declaring Jerusalem is the capitol of Israel – not a settlement.”
That statement “brought roars of approval,” Stoler noted. “Netanyahu is a pillar of strength.”
“I’m disappointed in Obama and the way he’s handling relations with Israel,” added Anderson. “Airing our petty grievances in public is an error. It fuels the anti-Israel fire, and I agree that Jerusalem is not a settlement.
Stoler agreed, calling the “friction between the president and the prime minister” “somewhat disappointing.”
“What other country in the world,” Anderson continued, “gets chastised for developing its own land, its own economy, its own people and defending its own borders?”
“There was a frightening cloud over the proceedings,” Rabbi Miles noted, “the specter of a nuclear Iran. The thrust of the agenda was to work with our friends in the government to do anything in our power to negate this threat.”
Anderson is also a leader in A E Pi, and in that capacity has been dealing with consuls general and Israeli diplomats for about 10 years. “The story line has been the same for the last year,” he said. “The three most critical problems facing Israel and the world today are Iran, Iran and Iran. It is imperative that we prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, whatever the cost may be.”
The Iranian government is too volatile, Anderson said. “You can’t trust a country like Iran with nuclear capabilities.”
Stoler observed that “it seemed to be accepted by every speaker that Iran could not become a nuclear power.”
In addition to possible sanctions against Iran, Berman said “the safety and security of Israel’s borders with Gaza and Lebanon” were also discussed. The U.S. provides $3 billion in foreign aid to Israel he explained, and “75 percent of all foreign aid that is sent to Israel comes back to the U.S. in the form of jobs and salaries.”
AIPAC also focused attention on the issue of BDS – boycott divestment and sanctions. “Many mainline churches,” Rabbi Miles explained, “particularly the Presbyterian Church headquartered here in Louisville have been leaning in this virulently anti-Israel direction.”
Rabbi Miles was particularly impressed with Alan Dershowitz, who, in an impassioned speech, “asserted that the world should stand in awe of Israel’s accomplishments, yet Israel is the only country in the world whose very right to exist is constantly being challenges.
“There is an ongoing move to delegitimize the State of Israel,” Rabbi Miles said Dershowitz stated, “and indeed Israel and her allies must do everything in our power to fight this attitude.” In fact, a recent poll shows that 63 percent of Americans strongly support Israel and its agenda for peace in the region.”
Rabbi Miles also reported that when Prime Minister Netanyahu addressed the convention, “well over half of the members of Congress and the U.S. Senate were in attendance, together with people from the administration and many ambassadors from countries around the world.
“We are blessed in Kentucky with very supportive pro-Israel Congressmen and Senators,” Anderson stated, pointing out that Sens. Mitch McConnell and Jim Bunning and Reps. Ben Chandler and John Yarmuth are all strong advocates of Israel.
“When Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke with us,” Rabbi Miles continued, “he began his remarks by stating proudly that Israel was the first nation from the world community to come to the aid of Haiti following the earthquake. He rhetorically asked why. Israel does not have an embassy in Haiti. There is no Jewish community in Haiti. There is no connection whatsoever. And he answered that one of the core values of both Israel and the IDF is to save lives. And that in fact, Haiti was only one of many countries where this has happened throughout the world.”
For the Berman family, the AIPAC Policy Conference was truly a moment for pride. Emily, president of the AIPAC chapter at Indiana University, Bloomington, received the Duke Rudman Leadership Award recognizing her role in making the IU chapter the best AIPAC college chapter in the country. Emily also spoke about student activism for AIPAC at a breakout session. Now a senior, Emily will soon go to work for AIPAC.