While 18,000 people from across the country gathered in the Walter E. Washington Convention Center for the annual AIPAC Policy Conference, a different, much small crowd gathered outside. Dozens of pro-Palestinian protestors waving flags, holding signs and wearing keffiyehs were flanked by police throughout the day on Sunday.
AIPAC conference-goers were asked to keep confrontations to a minimum; and many of them simply observed the action from the inside. And although tensions were high among attendees, most of Sunday was calm and
For many first-timers, this conference was extremely important, one of their first true opportunities to learn about Israel from the experts themselves.
Two local high school seniors, Aliza Reinstein of Potomac and Marissa Sherman of Bethesda, are devoted members of the B’nai Brith Youth Organization (BBYO), having met there in the eighth grade. They decided to attend the AIPAC meeting after going on two trips to Israel, in 2017 and 2018, together.
“We’re both very involved in BBYO in our communities,” Aliza said. “[And the trips] really opened our eyes to this whole experience about learning about other cultures and Israel in relation to American politics.”
They had come with a group of their peers to the conference and were planning on spending the entire three days downtown; they had a hotel room and were skipping school for the event.
“I’m active in something called AJC Leaders of Tomorrow,” a youth organization sponsored by AJC, “and [AIPAC] has really allowed me to share my views more and learn more about what I’ve been learning all year [from AJC] and it’s been really interesting,” Marissa said.
In the mid-afternoon of Sunday, the two were taking a break in the lobby of the conference center, texting on their phones. They had gone to campus sessions directed towards high schoolers, which taught about activism among their peer groups. They had also gone to the Israeli World Showcase, which presented new technologies and innovations
The previous evening they attended a “Shark Tank”-esque session in which several Israeli innovators spoke about their ideas and products.
“Last night and today we really learned about Israel’s innovations and technology that’s special to Israel. I feel like you can’t really learn about that in a place. You can hear about the stuff online, but actually being able to meet the people and see what these technologies actually are is so cool,” Aliza said.
For them, their first time at the AIPAC conference was something that was both fun and educational, with vast amounts of opportunities to do things they hadn’t had a chance to do before. Aliza was looking forward to exploring more of the convention center.
Marissa was looking forward to the Tuesday lobbying session.
“I want to learn more about the U.S.-Israel relationship, and I’m very excited for Tuesday, when I’ll be lobbying my congressman,” she said.
Aliza was also looking forward to learning more about how to advocate
“I hope to learn more about Israel in a more political perspective, especially how I can be involved in advocating for Israel in my community as a teen and on campus,” she said.