A new student group at AU is looking to take the creative efforts of students to make a difference in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on Capitol Hill.
The American University Public Affairs Committee on Israel, or AUPAC, has started lobbying congressional representatives and state senators to advocate for direct talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders and for the passage of the Iran Sanctions Act, which would put sanctions on Iran for continued nuclear proliferation, according to AUPAC President Jackie Grill.
AUPAC had its first meeting with political officials on Sept. 15. A group of 25 students visited the offices of five senators, including Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.
The group will conduct meetings with members of Congress and various state senators throughout the school year to give them information about the relationship between the U.S. and Israel and to urge them to take action on various foreign policy issues, according to Grill.
At the Sept. 15 meeting, the students gave information packets to the foreign affairs aides for four of the five senators.
The AUPAC members were able to meet with Sen. Benjamin Cardin, D-Md., in person.
“He thanked us a lot for what we’re doing, and he thanked us for our support of the U.S.-Israel relationship,” Grill said. “And that felt great.”
AUPAC will be visiting the offices of congressional representatives and state senators again on Nov. 10.
Grill is confident AUPAC’s meetings with senators and members of Congress can make a positive impact.
“We have faith in the system that they will put our words into action through legislation,” she said. “This is the most impactful way to make a difference in the conflict.”
She also noted that while other pro-Israel AU student groups like AU Students for Israel organize cultural programming, AUPAC is more politically based.
The group started over a year ago when one of Grill’s friends told her he wanted to lobby for political issues at AU.
AUPAC became a Student Activities-recognized organization earlier this semester.
Though the group is pro-Israel, it is not restricted to just Israeli or Jewish students, said AUPAC Vice President for the Leadership Board Emma Noftz.
“The type of people who lobby Congress with us varies with each different event,” she said. “But the great thing about our organization is that not everyone has to be Jewish.”
Grill stressed she is not looking to stir conflict with pro-Palestinian groups.
“We don’t want rallies,” she said. “We don’t want protests. You won’t see us outside of a [Students for Justice in Palestine] event screaming and yelling. We want to sit down and talk calmly about the issues.”
AU student groups on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict say they are looking to implement student efforts to make a positive difference on their respective sides of the ongoing conflict.
Students for Justice in Palestine
Students for Justice in Palestine is trying to create a social movement to raise awareness on campus and in the D.C. community about the plight of Palestinian nationals and refugees, SJP President Michael Dranove said.
The group’s mission is to strengthen the international social movement to end U.S. occupation of Israel, according to Dranove. The group also wants to help end what Dranove sees as the “hate crimes” perpetrated by the U.S. against Palestinians.
AU’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine has seen a growth in membership from three members last semester to about 20 members at their last meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 28.
SJP President Dranove believes there could be any number of reasons for the group’s sudden increase in members, from changing attitudes about the situation in Palestine to the high turnout at a speech made at AU last semester by Michael Oren, Israeli Ambassador to the U.S.
The members of SJP are still laying out plans for their events this school year, including film screenings and information sessions, according to Dranove.
He would also like to hold a “mass mobilization” with SJP chapters at other area universities like the University of Maryland and Georgetown University.
Dranove said while he and his group want to get along with pro-Israeli AU student groups, there must be an acknowledgement of the inherent differences of the two sides.
“We have completely opposite opinions,” he said. “We can get along, but if our views are in tandem, if we share the same opinions, we’re not doing the right thing. As long as they keep their same ideologies, we can’t — we shouldn’t — be acting like we’re acting on the same page.”
AU Students for Israel
AU Students for Israel is a multi-faceted group aiming to give students a comprehensive look at Israeli culture and social issues, according to AUSI President Sophia Bernstein.
AUSI organizes a variety of events throughout the school year, including speaking events, Hebrew language classes, film screenings, and an annual ceremony remembering the death of Israeli politician Yitzhak Rabin in November.
“We want to educate people about Israel, and what needs to be done to make it a better place,” Bernstein said. “But we also want to show how good of a place it already is through our cultural events.”
Bernstein believes Israel is sometimes misrepresented.
“The media sometimes doesn’t cover Israel in a nice way, so we’re looking to counteract that,” she said.
AUSI collaborates with a number of other student groups for events, including AU College Democrats, AU College Republicans and AUPAC.
The two will be collaborating for an AUPAC/AUSI Quad Party on Friday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Bernstein stressed that her group is accepting of many different viewpoints on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“Being pro-Israel does not mean being anti-Palestine,” she said.