AIPAC cancels 2021 national policy conference
June 4, 2020
Acting almost a year in advance, the America Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) announced Sunday that it would be canceling its 2021 Policy Conference due to concerns about the novel coronavirus.
AIPAC is a pro-Israel lobbying group that advocates for a two-state solution and closer ties between Israel and the U.S. It does this partly by meeting with members of Congress and urging them to support legislation, and the policy conference, held each year in Washington, D.C., offers an opportunity for many to meet with members of Congress.
More than 18,000 people, including world, national and religious leaders, attended the most recent conference March 1-3, according to the group’s website. Among them were 51 Shalhevet students and several faculty members.
When it was over, it was learned that three people who had gone to AIPAC tested positive for COVID-19 once they returned, meaning they might have been contagious during the conference. People who were in contact with a COVID patient in New York also attended the conference, and New York’s outbreak began to rise rapidly at that time.
In a letter released on social media May 31, the organization said the coronavirus pandemic made it uncertain whether such a large conference would be able to safely gather in March of 2021.
“I’m writing to let you know that given the continued uncertainties created by the COVID-19 pandemic, “ wrote AIPAC president Betsy Berns Korn in the letter, “and without a predictable avenue to safely bring together thousand of pro-Israel Americans, we have been forced to cancel the 2021 AIPAC Policy Conference.”
The conference had been scheduled to take place next year March 7-9.
Shalhevet visual arts teacher Mrs. Samantha Garelick, a member of AIPAC’s National Council, said it wasn’t so much fear of the virus itself that caused the cancellation, but rather fear that a year’s worth of planning would end up needing to be canceled.
“My first reaction was disappointment, my second reaction was relief,” Mrs. Garelick said.
“Planning and preparing for policy conference is already in the works and needs to start ramping up this far in advance,” she said. “They were making a wise decision to make sure that all of that effort and money spent wouldn’t be for nothing.”
Mrs. Garelick said the conference’s lobbying efforts would continue via online platforms.
“I look forward to all of the ways that were engaging the pro-Israel community and members of Congress digitally, which we’re doing,” said Mrs. Garelick in an interview with the Boiling Point.
Junior Gaby Bentolila, a member of Firehawks4Israel who has attended earlier AIPAC conferences and had planned on attending next year as well, said she was surprised at the news but understood.
“I was really shocked because I knew that corona affected a lot, but the conference is in more than a year from now,” said Gaby. “But then when I continued thinking about it I realized that it’s for the better and they’re taking precaution because of how dangerous it could be.”
Samson Taxon, also a junior who attended the AIPAC conference for the last three years, said that the size of the national convention could make it difficult to maintain social distancing.
“They have almost 20,000 people,” said Samson. “So I can understand why if they have to keep social distancing like it is now, it could be difficult to socially distance 20,000 people.”
Gaby said the cancellation would not affect the group’s pro-Israel activities at school.
“Although there’s not going to be a conference to go to, we’re going to still keep teaching about like different bills that we want to advocate for,” said Gaby. “And just because there’s a pandemic we don’t stop advocating for Israel.”