This year’s AIPAC Policy Conference has come and gone. With over 18,000 members of the pro-Israel community present, there was no shortage of engagement and debate throughout the three-day event earlier this month.
Messages from American leaders on both sides of the aisle, as well as foreign heads of state, focused on the steadfast commitment to growing the already thriving America-Israel relationship. However, an underlying theme discussed virtually as often was the presence of nearly 4,000 high school and university students from across the nation.
This impressive showing highlighted the interest and involvement of the next generation of pro-Israel activists and future members of America’s political leadership. Of these 4,000 student activists, representing hundreds of educational institutions across the country, one of the largest contingents came from the University of Georgia.
The UGA delegation was [believed] the biggest in school history, consisting of 35 students from diverse religious backgrounds and political affiliations. Students allied with the College Democrats, Young Republicans, Student Government Association, Hispanic Student Association and many more, visualizing the wide-ranging level of support for an issue often characterized as divisive and conflicted.
As the president of the Georgia Israel Public Affairs Committee, I was proud to lead this delegation consisting mostly of first-time attendees. GIPAC is [seen as] the largest student-led pro-Israel activist group in the Southeast. Our organization focuses heavily on motivating student activism through educational programming and lobbying members of Congress on the crucial issues surrounding the state of Israel.
Gathering such a large student contingent is no easy task. These students were able to attend through the help and support of grants provided by Hillel of Georgia and GIPAC donors from across the state. The opportunities created through that support cannot be understated.
Through such backing, GIPAC has been able to expose a new class of students to these issues and to forge long-lasting alliances with influential lawmakers, notably Congressman Doug Collins, Congresswoman Lucy McBath and Sen. Kelly Loeffler. Throughout the year, we have been able to sit students face-to-face with local, state and federal leaders to tell their stories and express their concerns as pro-Israel activists.
This past year, a strong pro-Israel coalition of student organizations has grown at UGA through the hard work and commitment of our local Hillel house. AIPAC highlighted this success when Roey Shoshan, director of Hillel UGA, was presented with the prestigious Ally of the Year award at the conference.
The award recognizes leaders in the community who have made a distinct and long-lasting impact on the future success of the pro-Israel movement. During his tenure as director, Roey has demonstrated a strong commitment to supporting AIPAC’s leadership development agenda, making him more than deserving of the award.
Roey organized student trips to Israel, built relationships with student groups across campus, and provided resources to student organizations to help achieve their goals and grow their influence. UGA, AIPAC, and the state of Israel is fortunate to have him.
Besides Roey’s award, I was invited by AIPAC to speak on a panel focused on the importance of strengthening the student voice. Now more than ever, empowering the pro-Israel viewpoint of our next generation is vital in the fight against misinformation and misunderstanding on our college campuses.
In the past few months, we have seen a significant rise in anti-Semitic and anti-Israel activities on campuses throughout the state and the nation. Here in Georgia, we have witnessed the posting of fake eviction notices targeting Jewish students at Emory University and the drawings of swastikas on freshman dorms at UGA. In both of these incidences, students made their concerns heard. They spoke out to the media, motivating strong responses by their respective administrations.
Behavior such as this must be called out at every instance, and AIPAC giving me the platform to describe the methods for students to utilize on-campus was a true honor. Although I am graduating from UGA this year, I look forward to remaining a pro-Israel activist in my community.
Brett Feldman is a senior at UGA majoring in real estate and minoring in political science.