NEAR EAST REPORT AIPAC'S BIWEEKLY ON AMERICAN MIDDLE EAST POLICY
Students visited the Mevasseret Zion Absorption Center near Jerusalem, where they interacted with new Ethiopian immigrants and their children.
Students toured numerous sites across Israel, including religious holy sites such as the Yardenit baptismal site on the Jordan River.
Campus Political Leaders Return From Israel Informed and Engaged
Forty student activists and young political leaders from across the United States recently returned from the ten-day Milstein Foundation Campus Allies Mission to Israel. The Mission is aimed at helping them develop a deeper understanding of the U.S.-Israel relationship. Since 2005, the American Israel Education Foundation, a supporting organization of AIPAC, has facilitated a dozen similar trips that have had a profound impact on hundreds of outstanding students.
Trip participants are selected based on demonstrated campus activism and interest in political affairs. This year’s group included national leaders of the College Democrats of America and College Republican National Committee, as well as a significant number of student government presidents.
“While considering myself pro-Israel, I knew I would never fully grasp the country without seeing and experiencing it for myself,” said Tori Taylor, National Council Chair of College Democrats of America and a member-at-large of the Democratic National Committee’s Youth Council. “With the Milstein Foundation Campus Allies Mission to Israel, I was given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to gain a deeper perspective on the U.S.-Israel relationship with other student leaders from across the country.”
Exploring the Land, Its People, and the Issues
By touring over 35 sites from north to south, visiting religious holy sites and exploring the diverse landscape and communities of the country, students learned about the intricate mosaic that defines Israeli society. The itinerary for the ten-day trip included a diverse range of educational programming, such as a strategic tour of the Golan Heights and a visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and museum.
The Mission touched on issues related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: Israeli Col. Danny Tirza led a guided tour of Israel’s security barrier, while a visit to the divided city of Barta’a provided a context for reflecting on the challenges and opportunities of Arab-Israeli coexistence. The trip exposed participants to the vibrant, multidenominational character of Israeli religious life. Students visited the Western Wall for Shabbat services on Friday night, toured the Druze village of Ussfiyah and traveled to Capernaum, the center of Jesus’s ministry in the Galilee.
“As an African American Roman Catholic, I was one of the many participants representative of a culture with no Jewish heritage. I had never been to a synagogue or known what Shabbat was—let alone its significance. However, all that changed as a result of this journey” explained Korde Innis, a rising junior at Morehouse College. Innis has been actively involved in AIPAC for two years, and recently participated in its most intensive student training opportunity, the Student Speakers Bureau / Advanced Solicitation Training.
Perhaps the most unique feature of the trip were the lectures and discussions facilitated by experts. Throughout the trip, the Milstein Foundation Campus Allies Mission participants met with leading scholars to discuss topics relevant to the U.S.-Israel relationship.
The campus allies received an in-depth analysis of the relationship between politics and media in Israel with Aluf Benn, editor-at-large of the newspaper Ha'aretz, and took part in an exclusive briefing at the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv. Hebrew University of Jerusalem Professor Reuven Hazan gave an insider’s perspective on the political structure of the Israeli government, and Joe Perlov, CEO and Founder of IsraelExperts, spoke to the students about the challenges of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
“Travelling to Israel was a truly life-changing experience I will never forget. The trip exposed us to a wealth of incredible historical, political, and religious experiences and opportunities,” said Alex Schriver, National Chairman of the College Republicans National Committee. “The Mission reaffirmed my support for the U.S.-Israel relationship.”
Telling Their Stories
Trip participants are eager to share their stories with others: “Now, when I go to engage members of Congress or speak with students on my campus, I am in a position to say, without a doubt, “these people want peace,” and to argue that the foreign aid we give Israel concretely protects both lives and democracy,” commented participant Skip Carlson of Brigham Young University.
Meeting with experts in Israel led the students to new conclusions about the value of the U.S.-Israel relationship. Carlson reflected, “Just like the United States, Israel is a democracy trying to find peace while protecting the civil rights of its citizens. Supporting Israel is an essential American cause, a cause rooted in freedom.” Innis also noted, “What surprised me the most over the course of this momentous experience was the unwavering admiration and appreciation that was given to us as Americans. I had never experienced so much gratitude for simply being from the United States. The fraternal relationship between our two nations manifested itself throughout every aspect of the trip.”
For many students, the trip to Israel is another key step in deepening their involvement with AIPAC and emerging as strong, informed advocates of America’s ties to the Jewish state. For other participants, the Milstein Foundation Campus Allies Mission is just the beginning of their engagement in the pro-Israel political community. Several students who visited Israel last month are currently attending the AIPAC Summer Seminar Series lectures held in Washington, D.C., and many others will be participating in the Saban Leadership Seminar at the end of July.“I had the time of my life and couldn’t have imagined a more incredible experience. This trip really made me take a deeper look at the U.S.-Israel relationship and what it means to be pro-Israel. I’m really looking forward to working with AIPAC next year,” said Tori Taylor.