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More than 400 pro-Israel students from 146 campuses attended AIPAC’s 20th Saban Leadership Seminar in Washington, D.C., Dec. 18-21.
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Activists at the Saban Leadership Seminar had the opportunity to hear from Middle East experts, senior Congressional staffers and AIPAC’s top leaders.

AIPAC’s 20th Saban Leadership Seminar

In December, more than 400 pro-Israel students from 146 campuses across the country went to Washington, D.C. for AIPAC’s 20th four-day Saban Leadership Seminar. This winter’s bi-annual seminar was more ambitious and innovative than any other in AIPAC’s history.

The Saban Leadership Seminar featured a wide variety of experts on the Middle East and the American political process. Ambassador Dennis Ross, a former top Obama administration official, spoke about the impact of the Arab uprisings on Iran and Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy. Amb. Ross, who has addressed more Saban Leadership Seminars in the past 10 years than any other outside speaker, described how dramatically the Middle East has changed over the past 12 months and discussed the trends that are most important to keep an eye on in the year ahead.

Activists also had an opportunity to hear from senior Congressional staffers from both parties during a dynamic panel discussion focused on the role of Congress in strengthening the relationship between the United States and Israel. The conversation was moderated by AIPAC Director of Policy and Government Affairs Marvin Feuer and featured: Rich Goldberg, deputy chief of staff for Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL); Aaron Keyak, communications director for Rep. Steve Rothman (D-NJ); and Dani Gilbert, legislative assistant to Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL).

This year, campus activists also had the opportunity to hear from three of AIPAC’s top leaders: President Lee “Rosy” Rosenberg, Executive Director Howard Kohr, and Managing Director Richard Fishman. On stage simultaneously, Rosenberg and Fishman discussed many of the key challenges facing the pro-Israel movement and what can be done to ensure the strength of the U.S.-Israel alliance over the next decade and beyond. Both emphasized strategic planning as a hedge against leadership attrition and changing demographics; Rosenberg thanked the students for their outstanding work, uncommon commitment, and remarkable determination.

At a closing plenary, Kohr stressed the enormous value of the U.S.-Israel alliance to America in a time of regional turmoil, while Leadership Development Director Jonathan Kessler inspired students to deliver tangible assets to the wider pro-Israel political movement. Kohr reminded the students that Israel is America’s only reliable ally in the Middle East and urged them to take that message back to their campuses. Kessler built on Kohr’s message in order to motivate the crowd to remind America’s policy makers and opinion leaders that campus leaders from across the country have publicly proclaimed their support for a strong U.S.-Israel relationship.

Students were trained at this Saban Leadership Seminar in implementing AIPAC’s Spring Campus Initiatives, which deal with Congress, Candidates and Campus Leaders. With a particular focus on electoral politics, AIPAC’s Regional Political Directors from across the country gathered at the seminar to lead breakout sessions focusing on opportunities for student involvement and impact in the 2012 Congressional elections.

At another major plenary session, students heard from opinion leaders and analysts about the complex issues affecting Israel’s security and the U.S.-Israel alliance. In a panel moderated by AIPAC Director of Legislative Strategy and Policy Ester Kurz, entitled Israel in a Changing Region, three experts shared their views: Aaron David Miller, a former senior State Department official and current Public Policy Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars; Ilan Berman, vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council and editor of The Journal of International Security Affairs; and AIPAC Director of Policy and Government Affairs Brad Gordon.

A series of Master Classes—offered exclusively to Saban Leadership Seminar veterans—afforded activists special opportunities to interact with the speakers featured in plenary sessions.

“When I first attended Saban two years ago, I was inspired by the students and speakers whom I met,” said Raquel Saxe, a UCLA student activist. “This year I’ve returned for my 5th Saban to share with others all that I’ve gained through my involvement with AIPAC on campus. The changing and ever challenging environments that impact Israel and the U.S.-Israel relationship require constant vigilance, continued involvement and expansion of the pro-Israel political movement. The future of pro-Israel politics will largely depend on the students who attend Saban Leadership Seminars.”

Susan Finch, a campus activist at the University of Pennsylvania, left feeling a tremendous sense of personal and political empowerment: “I am looking forward to returning to Penn and sharing with other pro-Israel political activists what I have learned here. I know that pro-Israel students are very excited about AIPAC’s Spring Initiatives and I am eager to share with them new methods for accomplishing our goals. This semester Penn students will be actively supporting pro-Israel Congressional candidates of our choice and delivering tangible assets to the wider pro-Israel political movement.”