Members from across the HWS community recently attended the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference. Harrison Schutzer ’15, Max Feldman ’15, Leah Segal ’16, Professor of Religious Studies Michael Dobkowski, Associate Professor of Religious Studies Richard Salter ’86, P’15, Dr. Alan Feldman P’15, and Ellen Ginsberg P’15 attended the conference in Washington, D.C., from March 1 to March 3.
AIPAC is a lobbying group which advocates Congress for pro-Israeli policies. Held at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, the annual event is a chance for supporters to “come together, share their stories, and help promote a strong American-Israeli relationship,” says Schultzer, a public policy studies major.
The conference involved large general sessions, where prominent figures, such as National Security Advisor Susan Rice and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, spoke to the thousands of attendants. The HWS group attended the lectures together, where there was a “constant buzz and energy in the air,” according to Dobkowski, likely due to events, such as Netanyahu’s speech to Congress and the Iran nuclear talks, happening at the time.
“It was a very exciting time to be in Washington and to hear from some of the major political and diplomatic figures at the center of these issues,” Dobkowski says.
Despite “heated but cordial disagreements over policy issues,” Salter says the speakers’ remarks helped the attendants understand the “rhetorical battle” happening over issues like the Iran nuclear deal.
“I came away with the feeling that the positions articulated were very sincerely held, even though groups arrived at different conclusions,” Salter adds.
The speeches were followed by smaller breakout sessions on more specific topics about Israel. The HWS cohort attended a variety of these sessions. Schultzer joined a discussion about the future of oil and energy in Israel, while Feldman sat in on an overview of the Israeli missile defense system.
Dobkowski, whose interests focus on Jewish culture and history, attended sessions about diversity and citizen rights in Israel which he viewed as “informative and productive.” Salter, who teaches on Christianity, was “pleasantly surprised” by the diversity at the conference itself, such as in prominent presence of Evangelical Christians and the range of topics from film and art to microbreweries and technology in Israel.
The trip was sponsored by Hillel, the Abbe Center for Jewish Life, and donors who support programs run by the Center. Dr. Feldman, a podiatrist from Fairfield, Conn., and Ms. Ginsberg, a lawyer for the Nuclear Energy Institute in D.C., were also instrumental in arranging the group’s attendance.
“This was rewarding for me,” says Dobkowski about the conference. “It was an occasion to meet with colleagues, friends, former students, alumni and alumnae, and parents. I believe the students also found the entire experience to be rewarding, productive and enjoyable.”
“I was very excited to be a part of the conference,” Salter says. “Most importantly, it was a chance for me to travel with some Hobart and William Smith students and get to know them better.”
Feldman, an environmental studies major, found the experience and instances such as the lectures’ emphasis on bipartisan support for Israel “interesting and inspiring.” He adds: “There was a good mix of everything from the politics of the current issues in Israel to personal stories of those affected by them. It was really engaging.”
In the photo above, Alan Feldman P’15, Ellen Ginsberg P’15, Professor or Religious Studies Michael Dobkowski, Harrison Schutzer ’15, Leah Segal ’16, Max Feldman ’15 and Associate Professor of Religious Studies Richard Salter ’86, P’15 pose for a photo while attending the AIPAC Annual Policy Conference in Washington, D.C.