At AIPAC conference, Netanyahu was ‘like a friend’

Shalhevet sends 22 to annual conference; in-person speech from Israeli prime minister was highlight.


Gilad Spitzer

CROWD: 18,000 people filled the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington DC on March 5 to hear from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

For Shalhevet’s delegates to this year’s AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, D.C., an appearance by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was doubly special.

Whereas last year he merely appeared on video, this year Netanyahu came in person. And in person, the Shalhevet students found him engaging and inspiring.

“You remember people talked about Israel’s isolation?” the prime minister asked in his March 6 address to at the conference, which was held in Washington’s Walter E. Washington Convention Center. “You remember that? Israel’s isolation?

“Pretty soon, the countries that don’t have relations with us, they’re going to be isolated,” he continued. “There are those who talk about boycotting Israel? We’ll boycott them.”

ISRAEL: Shalhevet students pose with Congressman Brad Schneider (D-IL) at the AIPAC Policy Conference on March 4 after he spoke to them about his journey in politics and efforts to support pro-Israel legislation in the House.

Multiple students described Netanyahu’s speech as the highlight of the trip.

“He was very enthusiastic and intriguing,” said freshman Jordan Simon. “He got me interested in what he was saying and how advanced Israel was with technology and innovation.”

Sophomore Anna Weiss praised the Prime Minister’s speaking style.

“He was very, very personable,” said Anna. “It felt like he talked to you — he wasn’t talking at you. It was like you were his friend, you were part of his family.”

Eighteen-thousand people were gathered in the nation’s capital that weekend, among them 22 Shalhevet students who listened, learned and lobbied for four days.

Aside from Netanyahu, they heard from speakers including Vice President Mike Pence and United States U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley.  They also met with congresspeople and engaged in pro-Israel discussion with other conference attendees.

All of Shalhevet’s delegates had received full or partial scholarships in exchange for having gone to 12 one-hour sessions training sessions in advance, designed to help them get the most out of what the experience.

The group arrived in Washington D.C. Sunday morning after a redeye motzei Shabbat, and immediately got to work. The conference’s first general session, where all AIPAC attendees gathered to hear remarks, started at 8 a.m.. Throughout the day, there were various breakout sessions which students could choose to attend, ranging from discussions about current events in Israel, Syria, Iran and the greater Middle East to Israeli-Palestinian relations and the role of Israel in the world.

“I learned how the U.S.- Israel relationship is really important for Israel’s existence, and what students on campus can do to help,” said Jordan. “There were 18,000 other people of all different backgrounds who were there for the same cause, which was to protect our homeland.”

The sessions continued the next day, and the constant rotation added to an energetic atmosphere.

Shalhevet’s AIPAC group — which  was comprised of 19 students and three chaperones including Head of School Rabbi Ari Segal, also had private meetings with Congress members, arranged by parents of students attending the conference.

One of these was a meeting with Congressman Brad Schneider (D-Ill.). The group met with him for half an hour, discussing his relationship with Israel and AIPAC.

Later they met with Ms. Halie Soifer, who is the national security advisor to Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.).  According to Admissions Director Natalie Weiss, who was one of the chaperones, Ms. Soifer spoke about her job and her background. Students asked questions about her views, and she said she strongly supports the two-state solution and is worried about President Trump’s approach to the region.

The group also got the opportunity to take a tour of the United States Capitol building at night.  Though still recovering from jet lag, they mustered their energy and took the tour, and interviews from the Boiling Point found that this was the favorite part of the trip for multiple attendees.

“Nobody else was there,” said senior Rosie Wolkind. “It was really awesome.”

They returned to their hotel around 1:30 a.m., and were greeted with ice cream before readying for another busy day just a few hours later.

They later attended a lobbying workshop, where they received some brief training in how to effectively lobby — in preparation for Tuesday, when all 18,000 attendees gathered on Capitol Hill to meet with their senators and representatives to discuss AIPAC’s legislative goals.

“My favorite part about the trip was how you had 18,000 Jews from all across the world, coming together and fighting for one problem, no matter what side of the aisle they were on,” said Rosie.

Shalhevet students took advantage of another parent-made arrangement to meet with pro-Israel congressman Paul Cook (R-Calif.). They asked questions about his pro-Israel experience, and lobbied him to vote in favor of certain legislation that they supported.

“It was really great to be alone with him in his office, and have just us as an audience as opposed to being among 200 adults,” said Ms. Weiss.

“It’s really inspiring, to hear from all these people and seeing what can I be doing now or in a few years as a student at a college,” said senior Aviva Katz. “You get to see an example of how people can be making a difference in small or big ways.”