Raising voices for Israel Students travel to Washington to lobby U.S. lawmakers to support the nation of Israel
University students traversed the hallways of Capitol Hill yesterday to relay their message to lawmakers: If you care for Israel, show it.
Joining forces with other local universities, seven students lobbied Congress on three main issues: continuing foreign aid for the country, combating the threat of Iranian nuclear weapons and raising awareness of the recent unity deal between Fatah and Hamas, both Palestinian political organizations. Although students were unable to talk with representatives and senators at the event sponsored by Terrapin Students for Israel as a part of Israel Week, many said they still felt like they made a difference.
“I feel like I exercised my right to be politically active … and I feel that it was successful,” freshman government and politics major Ahuva Sunshine said. “Students should take the opportunity to be politically active.”
The first stop of the day was a trip to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a pro-Israel lobbying group in Washington, where students learned how to voice their opinions effectively to congressional officials.
“We went over the seven keys of lobbying, and it was good because we were able to understand how to accurately present the information we wanted to present,” said freshman finance major Ira Rickman. “[They taught] us to keep it simple, keep it brief and get our message across properly.”
Every year, Israel receives $3 billion in foreign aid from the United States. Students said they wanted to ensure funding would continue.
Also on the agenda was maintaining the United States’ economic sanctions on Iran for as long as the country continues to develop nuclear weapons. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said publicly that Israel should be “wiped off the map” — a translation by news sources from a speech that agreed with statements made by Ayatollah Khomeini.
Creating a lasting peace in the Middle East is crucial, students said, and Wednesday’s reconciliatory agreement between Fatah — the majority political party in Palestinian territory — and Hamas — Fatah’s rival political party, recognized as a terrorist organization by the United States, that often orchestrates violent attacks on Israel — had them worried. Students voiced their concerns to legislative aides, asking the United States to stand with Israel.
“For that unity agreement to do anything toward a potential peace between Israelis and Palestinians and the establishment of a Palestinian state, the new unity government needs to denounce violence,” said sophomore business major Daniel Ensign, Terrapin Students for Israel co-president and an organizer of the lobbying event. “They need to recognize Israel as a state.”
Many congressional staffers said they already supported Israel, so students left without stirring any contentious debate, which some said would have been more effective.
“I definitely would have liked to speak to someone who didn’t have the same opinions I did in terms of Israel,” said sophomore finance and history major Nathan Cohen, who is also president of this university’s Zionist Organization of America chapter. “I think that perhaps if I were to show them my opinion, they may think in a different light … and maybe that could change their opinion into support for Israel.”
While students said lobbying in Washington shows federal officials that they have constituents who care about Israel, they also said university-wide efforts are crucial.
“I wish that more students on campus who are pro-Israel would show their support,” Rickman said. “I know we have Israeli cultural groups on campus, but the only way we’re ever going to achieve any kind of progress is if people from both sides engage in meaningful discussion.”