It’s not hard to imagine why anyone would be flying from Chicago to Florida at this time of year. But my destination was the national conference of the Israeli-American Council. And the warmth I’d be basking in had nothing to do with the Sunshine State.
As president of the Haym Salomon Center, the news and public policy nonprofit I cofounded, I regularly attend such conferences. Rarely is there any actual news to report, with the exception of J Street, a sick-to-my-stomach-inducing experience where disdain for the Jewish state is palpable. Their speakers list is a dead giveaway, but I digress.
Like many conferences, IAC offers plenary sessions with prominent speakers and breakaway sessions featuring expert panelists. The headline speaker was Vice President Mike Pence. His remarks delighted the crowd of over 3,000, especially his declaration that “Support for the Jewish State is not a partisan issue, it is an American issue!” He also took Airbnb to task for delisting Jewish homes in Judea and Samaria, stating, “We’ve made it clear the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement is wrong, and it has no place in the free enterprise of the United States of America.”
Session titles included: How Successful Israeli and Jewish American Entrepreneurs are Disrupting Traditional Industries From Within Using Their “Chutzpah”; The Future of Medicine – Disruptors in the Field of Saving Lives; The Future of Medicine: New Frontiers; City of the Future: Re-Imagining Modern Cities; and How Technology is Reshaping Economies
Other conferences will touch on these subjects. The well-earned “Start-Up Nation” moniker is prominent at all Israel education events. But IAC goes that extra mile to incorporate other subjects of vital importance to both Israel and the United States, indeed, to the well-being of the world.
The reason is obvious. But you have to attend an IAC event to understand.
While American Jewry is the dominant force behind all other pro-Israel summits, this conference is mostly influenced by Israeli-Americans, strengthening the bond between Israelis and Americans as well as that between two countries. It’s that Israeli dominance which defines the IAC conference.
One thing I’ve learned over the past decade is that Israelis understand there is so much more to Israel than its haters.
Zionists in America are fixated on Israel’s detractors. We are on the frontlines of the PR battle against the Jewish state, and yes, the Jewish people. We are determined advocates for truth and Israel’s right to exist – a vital role that Israeli-Americans appreciate. But Israelis know they aren’t going anywhere. They just persevere at making the world a better place. I’d argue that nobody does it better.
With that said, Israeli-Americans understand the threats arrayed against them and the Jewish state, a reality reflected in thought-provoking breakout sessions such as “Why Antisemitism is an American Problem and How Jews, Christians, and Other Tolerant Religious Groups Can Work Together to Fight It.” Moderated by Adam Milstein, IAC chairman of the board and the heart and soul of the organization, this discussion featured our Christian friends and highlighted the importance of their alliance with us.
GORDON ROBERTSON, CEO of the Christian Broadcasting Network; Shari Dollinger, co-executive director of Christians United for Israel; and Robert Nicholson, founder and executive director of The Philos Project, offered enlightening and refreshing perspectives not often heard at pro-Israel events.
Other breakout sessions, including “Unmasking and Combating the Hate Movements Behind Antisemitism in America” and “Hate Speech vs. Free Speech— BDS and the First Amendment,” featured prominent leaders in the pro-Israel movement.
Maccabee Task Force organizes and funds groups to combat BDS and antisemitism on college campuses. With a passion rarely seen at these events, Maccabee executive director David Brog exhorted participants to defeat the haters. Brog made certain that the attendees knew what we are facing: Anti-Israel activism is unquestionably antisemitism and should be called out for what it is. Panelists at pro-Israel events tend to maintain a demeanor of professionalism. Brog never crossed the line, but he certainly approached it in his glorious and refreshing delivery.
Roz Rothstein is co-founder and CEO of the Israel education group StandWithUs. While women are always well represented at these events, Rothstein’s insight into the antisemitic BDS bigotry that our college kids face was beyond valuable. Every Jewish student headed off to college should be lucky enough to spend five minutes with her to learn what they may face on campus and how to deal with it.
Two newer faces were panelists Sandra Hagee Parker, CUFI Action Fund’s founding chairwoman, and Amanda Berman, the Lawfare Project’s director of legal affairs. These are names the pro-Israel movement will be hearing more about in the years to come.
CUFI’s Parker brings a world of insight to Israel advocacy on Capitol Hill. With the strength of over 4.5 million Christians Zionists, CUFI is arguably the most influential pro-Israel voice in Washington, and Parker is a powerful addition.
As co-founder of the Zioness Movement, Amanda Berman could be Linda Sarsour’s worst nightmare. On the frontlines combating the hate displayed by Women’s March organizers toward Jewish women, Zioness is exposing the hypocrisy of Sarsour and her adherents for discriminating against Jewish women in the name of feminism. While progressive publications see fit to defend Sarsour, Berman and her proudly liberal colleagues are publicly calling out the antisemites. A valuable voice at the conference and in these #metoo times.
It wasn’t the influential politicians such as the vice-president or House and Senate leaders Nancy Pelosi and Charles Schumer or Ambassadors Ron Dermer and Danny Danon who dazzled me. Respectfully, I’ve heard them all before and I appreciate their words of support, as well as the laugh I enjoyed when Pelosi uttered the words “two-state solution” and the room erupted in disapproval.
While other events often focus exclusively on the threats Israel faces, this conference spotlighted the economic and medical powerhouse that is Israel. But the most profound message of this conference, embedded in the partnership that produced it, is that the world needs the Jewish state more than Israel needs the world.The writer is president and executive director of the news and public policy group Haym Salomon Center. Follow him on Twitter @pauliespoint.
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