Frank Carroll, UCSD Alumni
Let me start out by saying that it is great to be back here in Washington D.C. for the AIPAC Policy Conference. Just last year, I was sitting right where you are sitting at my first conference. I had many questions; first and foremost, what am I doing here and what is this AIPAC organization all about. You see, my introduction to AIPAC was a bit circuitous to say the least. While you will undoubtedly meet many students here that have been introduced to AIPAC by their parents or their community leaders, I am sure there are many of you here that are like me. I am not Jewish. I am an Irish Protestant. My connection to Israel developed primarily through my Jewish stepfather, who would tell me of the anti-Semitism he experienced throughout his childhood and into his adulthood while living in Argentina, and through the fervent counsel of my grandfather, the preacher, who always reminded me of my responsibility to stand with Israel. And so while I had an appreciation for Israel, I still would have never considered myself a pro-Israel activist.
No, I was just a student government leader at the University of California-San Diego. But when several student groups on campus proposed a resolution of condemnation for Israel’s actions during Operation “Cast Lead”, I felt it was appropriate to voice my disagreement with the resolution based on my principles. I mean, after all, people are free to disagree, especially on college campuses. But the rhetoric became divisive, vitriolic, and one-sided. I had kicked a hornet’s nest, and I paid the price. I was vilified by dozens of students for taking a stand. I received vicious emails, Facebook messages, and phone calls. During my confirmation hearing for the campus Election Manager position, no fewer than 20 people came to testify that I was unfit for the job because of my pro-Israel bias.
This time was trying and difficult to say the least; but one thing made the experience rewarding. After the first meeting on the resolution, where the legislation was tabled for a week, I met a fellow student named Sam Spector. Sam was the AIPAC campus liaison at UCSD and he immediately assured me that I was not fighting alone. Sam, through his training and unwavering dedication to Israel, helped build support among the student groups on campus while I worked on my fellow student leaders. In the end, the legislation was defeated. But that is the only the beginning of the story. Sam invited me and several other student leaders to the AIPAC Policy Conference. The decision to attend spurned another round of hateful messages and calls for resignation, culminating in a classroom confrontation by a group of students who demanded I recant my pro-Israel stance.
By the time Policy Conference rolled around, we were all a little worn down. While my beliefs had not changed, I began to question if this was all worth the fight it had caused. I needed reassurance; I needed help; and most importantly, I needed strength. And to tell you the truth, I was a skeptical if I would find it at this conference. I was pleasantly surprised to find out I was absolutely wrong. What I first realized was that I was not alone. The sheer size and attendance of the conference is a testament of the broad support for the U.S.-Israel relationship. And I further discovered that this was not just an organization for Jewish students.
Just look around here tonight; the diversity of backgrounds and experiences is truly remarkable and speaks further of how broad a coalition AIPAC truly is. The next thing I noticed was that this was not just some fringe group of close-minded zealots; contrary to many of the Facebook messages I received in response to the news of my attendance. Actually, I was surprised to attend plenary and breakout sessions that highlighted positive change and a spirit of cooperation. I am confident that over the next few days you too will come to this conclusion as you hear from world renowned experts on Middle East policy who will focus on realistic and obtainable solutions, rather than simple, empty-minded rhetoric. The final and most important part of last year’s policy conference was the fact that I found the aforementioned strength I was so desperately looking for.
AIPAC gave me the opportunity to lobby my member of Congress, and because there was only three attendees from my district, I was able to take point of the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act; a very important piece of U.S.-Israel legislation. I received a letter some months later from my congressman that he had signed on as a co-sponsor of the bill. I had taken an issue that was important to me, the United States, and Israel, to my member of Congress and he too found the issue important enough to support it. I had been empowered; I had found strength; with the help and support of AIPAC. And the support did not end there.
While the Policy Conference is a phenomenal experience, it is only one small part of what AIPAC does. The real meat and potatoes of pro-Israel advocacy begins after you leave the policy conference and return to your respective constituencies; that is where the relationships you build over the next few days will become invaluable. When I returned home from Policy Conference, I had the tools and network I needed to be an effective advocate. When Sam, the aforementioned AIPAC campus liaison, organized a night to honor the achievements of Israel, the group of us who attended policy conference went to work.
The Chancellor, Vice-Chancellors, several professors, and student government leaders all attended the event. This was quite a shift from only three months earlier when the climate was one of hurt and division; and the shift was due in large part to the relationships formed at policy conference. I have since graduated from UCSD and moved to Houston to where I have begun my graduate study of Law. And wouldn’t you know it; one of the first connections I made in my new city was with the staff at the AIPAC regional office in Houston, and we are currently reaching out and developing a new group of pro-Israel student activists in Houston. The point I want you to take away from my brief remarks is this: the conference that you have decided to attend for the next few days can be the start of a great relationship with an unparalleled organization.
In the one year since my introduction to AIPAC, I have received nothing but respect, appreciation, and genuine kindness from everyone I have had the pleasure of meeting. We are all different; with different backgrounds and experiences. Some are Jewish, some are not. Some support Israel for religious reasons; others for political reasons. For some, it’s a heritage issue; for others, a security issue. But regardless of why you are here, regardless of who you are or where you come from, there is one thing that we at AIPAC have in common; the common thread that ties us together. We all believe Israel is important, and we believe the U.S.-Israel relationship is special. That common thread, the special bond between the U.S. and Israel, is why we are all here this weekend. And whether you already have an appreciation for Israel, or whether you develop one of the next few days, I am sure you will find that you are in the right place, at the right time. I hope that the experience of the next few days is as rewarding for you as it was for me at my first policy conference. Have fun, take it all in, and remember – this is only the beginning of a fantastic relationship between you and AIPAC.