On November 6-8, 2011, five students from the Northwest Yeshiva High School had the privilege of attending and representing NYHS at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee Shusterman Advocacy Institute High School Summit. Josh Applebaum, class of 2012, Halle Friedland, class of 2013, Talia Etsekson, class of 2013, Jessica Schwartz, class of 2013 and I (class of 2013) traveled to Washington, D.C. to meet up with 400 other high school students from across the country. At the conference, students learned the main issues occurring in Israel today, and how to effectively advocate for Israel.
During the summit, student delegations focused on the three main issues on AIPAC’s legislative agenda: Enforcing the sanctions on Iran, rejecting the Palestinian bid of statehood at the United Naitons, and continuing the $3 billion of annual foreign aid from America to Israel.
These three issues are vital to the safety and security of Israel, and also to America. Iran is a huge threat due to the fact that it is acquiring nuclear weapons. America can help prevent Iran from obtaining these weapons by imposing and enforcing diplomatic sanctions. By simply putting enough pressure on Iran and its economy, it will not be able to thrive, so its nuclear production will go down. Also, this diplomatically isolates Iran from the rest of the world; if the sanctions are enforced, it cannot do business with other countries.
On the issue of the Palestinian bid for statehood, America and AIPAC believe that Israel must negotiate directly with the Palestinians to decide what will be the Palestinian state, instead of the Palestinians going to the UN and circumventing negotiations with Israel.
Lastly, Congress must pass an appropriations bill every year, and foreign aid is a huge help to Israel. Three billion dollars is a significant amount, and it is all to be spent on the military. Seventy-five percent of that money must be spent on U.S. soil, which helps our economy grow. Once we understood these main issues, we learned how to effectively publicize them.
Jonathan Kessler, the leadership development director of AIPAC, taught that the most effective way to get the message across is through “retail engagement.” AIPAC, he said, believes that “one person can make a difference,” and it is therefore up to individuals to make a difference by advocating for Israel. The most effective way to do so is through engagement, or lobbying. By talking to people one-on-one, you can get more people to become interested and educated than any other way possible.
It is within AIPAC’s methodology that relationships are important, and it is vital to create relationships with people so you can customize your engagement per their personalities. This methodology must be applied to AIPAC’s main form of engagement, which is lobbying members of Congress.
Congress makes the majority of decisions within our government. Our representatives are very busy people, and need help to be informed about all of the issues. It is the role of the people to do so. AIPAC trains individuals on how to effectively and respectfully lobby a Congressional representative, so we learned the five steps to lobbying: Know your audience, know what you want to accomplish, know what they want to accomplish, know your time frame, and know your exit strategy of saying thank you.
These steps allow the AIPAC-trained lobbyist to understand and customize their engagement strategies to work well.
The Schusterman Summit was a fantastic learning experience on how to advocate for our countries — Israel and America. I am greatly honored to have participated in the summit. I have learned a lot and I look forward to being involved in AIPAC and using my knowledge and experience to effectively educate and engage others in support of Israel.