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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

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I stand with Israel

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Earlier this month, I attended the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference in Washington, D.C.

As a member of the six-person delegation from the Canadian Federation of Jewish Students (CFJS), meeting and sharing the experience with the other delegates from Canada was unforgettable.

AIPAC is America’s pro-Israel lobbying organization, and in fact one of the largest lobbying committees in the United States. Its mission is to strengthen U.S.-Israel ties, and it works to conceive and implement policies that enhance the two nations’ vital relationship.

Given the latest news in Middle Eastern affairs, namely, allegations surrounding Iran’s development of nuclear weapons, the AIPAC conference arrived at a critical time.

One of the most enlightening aspects of the conference was being exposed to an immense pro-Israel community that is not Jewish.

Growing up in a predominantly Jewish community and attending day school up to university, I never even entertained the idea that non-Jews could be as passionate about the State of Israel as I am.

I assumed that given the lack of a Jewish heritage and history, they could not possibly feel the connection I inherently possess. I was wrong.

Despite my preconceived notions, many delegates and even political figures who spoke at the conference, such as U.S. Defence Secretary Leon Panetta and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, who are not Jewish, work hard to strengthen the U.S.-Israel relationship.

This reaffirmed to me that religion should not be a barrier that prevents people from supporting Israel. Aside from Israel’s status as a Jewish state, it requires our support as a sovereign entity, irrespective of religion.

Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East and that renders its security essential to any western nation. President Barack Obama, one of the several leading speakers at the conference, said it best, “There will be no lasting peace until Israel’s security concerns are met.”

For the vast global village that seeks peace in the Middle East, it is only natural to support Israel, given many countries’ contemporary outlook of taking any action or pursuing any interest that could result in securing universal harmony.

Moreover, Israel is the only state in the Middle East that currently recognizes 15 different religions, giving its citizens complete freedom of religion. Thus Christians, Muslims, Jews and others are free to practise their faiths in whatever capacity they desire.

Furthermore, women in Israel exercise equal rights to men, can dress how they like, obtain a comprehensive education and participate in the community. Israel was the third country in the world to elect a female leader when Golda Meir became the prime minister in 1969.

These are some of the shared values that compel us to stand with Israel.

Now, you may ask how a delegation of Canadian university students could benefit from a conference focused on the U.S.-Israel alliance.

Well, being in attendance among 13,000 pro-Israel advocates was itself exceptionally empowering. Given the volatile state of affairs in the region, the conference served as a warm cover of reassurance, as participants witnessed and took part in the vast gathering.

Moreover, the conference took place from March 3 to 6, during the same week as the annual Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) was held on campuses throughout North America. Although it was difficult to miss the beginning of IAW at my school, the University of Western Ontario, I felt my attendance at the conference was imperative.

It was in Washington that I realized the importance for Canada to mirror AIPAC’s actions and institute a large-scale conference for Canadian pro-Israel advocates.

Arguably referred to as “Israel’s best friend,” it seems only natural and essential that Canada should host a conference to encourage and inspire its politicians and citizens to confirm Israel’s very existence and security.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the AIPAC attendees, promising that “[he] will never let [his] people live in the shadow of annihilation.”

By virtue of Israel’s hostile neighbours and enemies, it is apparent that Netanyahu should not act alone in protecting and defending Israel.

Now more than ever, Israel needs our support to defend its right to survive and thrive. Present-day students are the future generation that can either perpetuate Middle Eastern conflicts and animosity or work to secure a lasting peace.

Jewish and non-Jewish pro-Israel young adults must continue to take this responsibility seriously by further educating themselves, staying informed about Middle Eastern affairs and advocating for Israel on their campuses and in their communities. It is crucial that we as young adults accept this challenge and continue to represent and properly dignify our indispensable Israel.

This column appears in the March 29 issue of The CJN

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