Non-Jewish students, officials flock to AIPAC conference

Number of delegates from Christian and historically black colleges up by 25 percent, with 55 campuses represented.

jp.services1 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
The 6,000 participants who have congregated in Washington to participate in AIPAC's annual policy conference have seen their numbers boosted by a growing number of non-Jewish students and public officials. Christian and historically black colleges which sent student delegates to the three-day event grew by 25 percent this year, with 55 campuses represented. The number of student government presidents jumped by a third, to 160 such representatives, the majority of whom are not Jewish. For a Jerusalem Online video of the AIPAC conference, click here. The program itself continues the tradition of holding sessions on support for Israel among the African-American, Latino and Christian communities. Pastor John Hagee, the guiding force for the political organization Christians United for Israel, was asked to address the opening dinner plenary on Sunday. AIPAC, which subsidizes students who come to the conference, highlighted the diverse student involvement in its program, which opened with all 1,200 students standing before the assembly. Campuses have often been a place of fierce debate over Israel, not all of it flattering, and AIPAC has spent decades building up campus organizations. But Niiobli Armahm, president of the student government at the historically black Southern University in Baton Rouge, said his campus suffers more from apathy than overzealous activism. He said he plans to use the advocacy tools he'll gain at the conference to invigorate his campus. He supports Israel largely out of a sense of the common types of struggles the Jewish and African-American populations have faced. "It's about coalition-building," he said. "When these minority groups start to team up, they accomplish more - they become a majority." AIPAC spokesman Josh Block indicated that this diverse backing can help the US-Israel relationship. "As they [African-American students] and the folks from Hispanic background and evangelical communities continue their political involvement, it's only going to strengthen the pro-Israel movement," he said. "With close to 70 percent of Americans self-identifying as pro-Israel, obviously there are a lot of non-Jewish Americans in that group. The pro-Israel community is quite diverse, and the program reflects the work being done to reach out to all part of the American society that are pro-Israel."