I’m going to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference on March 24-26 in Washington, D.C., this year, and I’d like to explain why:
• I’m participating in the conference because I want to listen, converse and mingle with 20,000 people who affirm that a strong relationship between Israel and the United States is good for both countries and good for the people living around them. If two democracies are able to share security information, scientific know-how, academic and cultural exchanges, everyone benefits.
• I’m going to the conference because I’m passionately committed to the ideas that gave birth to Israel: that the Jewish people, long exiled by force from our homeland, now have the opportunity to return and establish a state that is Jewish, democratic and secure, doing the hard work of integrating millennia of Jewish tradition with contemporary commitments to liberal democracy, freedom of speech and press, and equal dignity for all its residents. As with America, the dream is greater than the reality. As with America, I will never give up on working to bridge the gap so that the dream becomes the new reality. And I celebrate each time the dream progresses.
• I’m attending AIPAC’s conference because I’m committed to Zionism, the notion that the Jewish people have the right to national self-determination no less than any other group. I understand that this right implies that the other people of the Middle East, including the Palestinians, also have a similar right. Either every group of people has the right to national self-determination or there is no such right. In affirming that Jewish national self-expression is a virtue, I simultaneously admit that right to Palestinian national self-expression as well. Standing on the shoulders of former Israeli President Chaim Weizmann (1874-1952) and other brave Israelis, I hope to help advance the dynamic reality of two peoples living side by side, affirming the dignity of both.
• I’m going to AIPAC’s conference because American democracy not only affirms, but celebrates citizen advocacy, electoral involvement, petitioning and lobbying our elected and appointed officials so they can better represent the insights, convictions and priorities of the people who send them to Washington in the first place. As individuals, we can do only so much, but together, educated and mobilized, we can exercise our constitutional right and empower our representatives to serve us that much better.
• I’m attending the conference because anti-Semitism, the age-old bigotry against the Jewish people, has once more reared its ugly head. As with countless other hatreds that seem to feed off today’s partisanship and viciousness, we are all threatened when any one of us is marginalized, attacked or disparaged because of their faith, color, gender or sexual orientation. I want to stand with others who will fight anti-Semitism and these resurgent hatreds from a place of mutual empowerment, shared commitment, and simple humanity.
“I’m attending AIPAC’s conference because I’m committed to Zionism, the notion that the Jewish people have the right to national self-determination no less than any other group.”
• I’m participating in AIPAC’s conference because I’m proud of America’s bipartisan commitment to a two-state solution, and I want to join with others who also advocate for that imperative.
• I’m joining with AIPAC’s participants because I’m committed to a broad interfaith coalition that embraces Jews, Christians, Muslims and others who come together in common dignity and a shared commitment to doing better together in the future, recognizing that democracies thrive in the rich diversity of all of their people — conversing, arguing and working it out together.
• I’m going to AIPAC’s conference because I am committed to a big tent. There are many ways to love Israel — from the right, the left, the center, and each has a role to play in something bigger. Just as we don’t connect to the United States as a monolithic entity but forge special connections with Americans with whom we share a common vision, or shared values, or mutual dreams, or a comparable agenda, so, too, we connect with those Israelis who share our vision of the future of Israel. I want to stand with others like me, to make sure that my way of loving Israel continues to have a presence and a voice at this gathering.
• I’m attending AIPAC’s conference because I have family and friends in Israel: college buddies, dear colleagues, activists, entrepreneurs and artists I love and admire, as I admire courageous Palestinian voices for peace and coexistence. My presence there feels like a way of standing with them, standing for them, advocating on their behalf, loving them.
• I’m attending AIPAC’s conference because, deeper than politics and partisanship and policy, I love the land of Israel, its people, its scents and foods and sights. I resonate with its history, my history, and its honor roll of prophets, sages, poets and mystics. I thrill at its modern wrestling into existence and its contemporary struggles to live out the values of its Declaration of Independence. I want Israel to thrive as a beacon of vitality and justice, of innovation, pluralism, diversity, creativity and renewal.
AIPAC’s annual conference is one of the best places to help advance these values. I will be there, this year, to take a stand.
Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson is Abner and Roslyn Goldstine Dean’s Chair at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, and vice president at American Jewish University. He will serve as a scholar at AIPAC’s Policy Conference in Washington, D.C.