It’s not hard to imagine why anyone would be flying from Chicago to Florida at this time of year. But my destination was the national conference of the Israeli-American Council (IAC). And the warmth I’d be basking in had nothing to do with the Sunshine State.
As President of the Haym Salomon Center, the news and public policy nonprofit I co-founded, I regularly attend such conferences. Rarely is there any actual news to report, with the exception of J Street, a sick-to-my-stomach-inducing experience where disdain for the Jewish state is palpable. Their speakers list is a dead giveaway, but I digress.
Like most conferences, IAC offers plenary sessions with prominent speakers and breakaway sessions featuring expert panelists. The headline speaker this year was Vice President Mike Pence. His remarks delighted the crowd of over 3,000, especially his declaration that “support for the Jewish State is not a partisan issue, it is an American issue!” He also took Airbnb to task for delisting Jewish homes in Judea and Samaria, stating, “We’ve made it clear the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement is wrong, and it has no place in the free enterprise of the United States of America.”
The sessions included:
How Successful Israeli and Jewish American Entrepreneurs are Disrupting Traditional Industries From Within, Using Their “Chutzpah”
The Future of Medicine — Disruptors in the Field of Saving Lives
How Technology is Reshaping Economies
Other conferences will touch on these subjects. The well-earned “Startup Nation” moniker is prominent at all Israel education events. But this particular conference goes that extra mile to incorporate other subjects of vital importance to both Israel and the United States, indeed the wellbeing of the world.
While American Jewry is the dominant force behind all other pro-Israel summits, this conference is mostly influenced by Israeli-Americans, strengthening the bond between Israelis and Americans as well as the two countries. It’s that Israeli influence that defines this event and should serve as a model for other Pro-Israel organizations to emulate.
One thing I’ve learned over the past decade is that Israelis understand that there is so much more to Israel than their haters.
Zionists in America are fixated on Israel’s detractors. We are on the frontlines of the PR battle against the Jewish state and, yes, the Jewish people. We are determined advocates for truth and Israel’s right to exist — a vital role that Israeli-Americans appreciate. But Israelis know they aren’t going anywhere.
With that said, Israeli-Americans understand the threats arrayed against them and the Jewish state, a reality reflected in thought-provoking breakout sessions such as “Why Anti-Semitism is an American Problem and How Jews, Christians, and Other Tolerant Religious Groups Can Work Together to Fight It.” Moderated by Adam Milstein, IAC Chairman of the Board and the heart and soul of the organization, this discussion featured our Christian friends and highlighted the importance of their alliance with us. Gordon Robertson, CEO of the Christian Broadcasting Network; Shari Dollinger, Co-Executive Director of Christians United for Israel; and Robert Nicholson, founder and Executive Director of The Philos Project, offered enlightening and refreshing perspectives not often heard at pro-Israel events.
Other breakout sessions, including “Unmasking and Combating the Hate Movements Behind Anti-Semitism in America” and “Hate Speech vs. Free Speech — BDS and the First Amendment,” featured prominent leaders in the pro-Israel movement.
Maccabee Task Force organizes and funds groups to combat BDS and anti-Semitism on college campuses. With a passion rarely seen at these events, Maccabee’s Executive Director David Brog exhorted participants to defeat the haters. Brog made certain that the attendees knew what we are facing: anti-Israel activism is unquestionably anti-Semitism and should be called out for what it is. Panelists at pro-Israel events tend to maintain a demeanor of professionalism. Brog never crossed the line, but he certainly approached it in his glorious and refreshing delivery.
Two newer faces were panelists Sandra Hagee Parker, CUFI Action Fund’s founding chairwoman, and Amanda Berman, the Lawfare Project’s Director of Legal Affairs. These are names the pro-Israel movement will be hearing more about in the years to come.
CUFI’s Parker brings a world of insight to Israel advocacy on Capitol Hill. With the strength of over 5 million Christians Zionists, CUFI is arguably the most influential pro-Israel voice in Washington.
As co-founder of the Zioness Movement, Amanda Berman could be Linda Sarsour’s worst nightmare. On the frontlines combating the hate displayed by Women’s March organizers toward Jewish women, Zioness is exposing the hypocrisy of Sarsour and her adherents for discriminating against Jewish women in the name of feminism. While progressive publications see fit to defend Sarsour, Berman and her proudly liberal colleagues are publicly calling out the anti-Semites. A valuable new voice, especially during these #MeToo times.
While other events focus, sometimes exclusively, on the threats Israel faces, this conference spotlighted much more because Israel is so much more than a country in a bad neighborhood.
The lesson I took away is the world needs the Jewish state more than Israel needs the world. That’s a message we all should embrace.
Paul Miller is president and executive director of the news and public policy group Haym Salomon Center. Follow him on twitter @pauliespoint.