Every day presents each of us with decisions. Many of them are small choices, but in life we are also given opportunities to make significant decisions. Sometimes these are made from a conviction that something is more important or greater than ourselves, knowing that in some cases the right choice is not always the easiest one to make, or may carry significant personal risk. In the past these have also served as the kinds of decisions that alter the course of history, and today the U.S. now stands at a crossroads with a very significant decision to make.
This was one of the underlying currents at the 2012 AIPAC Policy Conference held March 3-6 in Washington D.C. This year JUF's Israel Education Center (IEC) brought a delegation of 10 non-Jewish and Jewish students to the conference from campuses all over Illinois, through the Reach Across Illinois Campuses for Israel program. These students have various backgrounds and interests, representing the next generation of leadership. They are international relations, education, business, religion, public policy, and history majors. They are student club representatives, a campus paper editor, ROTC cadet, interfaith leader, Iraq vet, and current interns with the IEC- and all approached this experience from various perspectives.
Throughout the conference, these students were able to hear directly from President Obama, Israeli President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, the Republican presidential candidates and many more. Hundreds of smaller breakout sessions provided participants with the opportunity to go further in depth on issues such as "A Strategic Asset: The U.S.- Israel Military Alliance", "Iran vs. the West: Iran's Quest for Dominance", "Israel's Isolation: Israel After the Arab Spring", and many more.
But the central focus of this year's conference rested primarily on the ever imminent threat of Iran's quest for nuclear capability. Our student delegation was exposed to the gravity of the situation. They learned that Iran not only makes loud proclamations of its desire to wipe Israel off of the map—but that the continual rhetoric of its dangerous regime proves reminiscent of the past when others have threatened and carried out similar decrees. They were exposed to the reality that Iran's threat is not isolated to Israel alone, but extends throughout the Middle East, beyond Europe, into America, and to the farthest corners of the world.
From various speakers and sessions the students were given an in depth understanding about America's historic bond with and support of Israel from its declaration of statehood until today. They realized the significance of this relationship through the uniqueness of our shared values and shared vision. They understood the immense responsibility that America has been given in ensuring that those who seek to threaten us, our friends, and the world, will not prevail. President Shimon Peres expressed this best when stating that, "America was, is, and will remain the indispensable leader of the free world and the indispensable friend of our people. Today more than ever, the world needs America."
This year's conference came at a pivotal time in history. As the world watches the Iranian regime flout its international responsibility and inch ever closer to achieving a nuclear program that carries with it grave implications, our responsibility is clear. Although there are varying opinions of what choices should be made going forward, one thing is absolutely certain—an unwavering and uncompromising commitment to Israel's safety and security is our moral imperative as a nation.
Others have been faced with a similar decision in the past. Tomorrow marks the holiday of Purim, where a young woman was asked to risk everything by standing up for something she knew was even more important than her own life. Faced with the threat of the survival of Jews throughout the Persian Empire, Queen Esther stood at a crossroad in history. It was because she understood that it was not only a responsibility but a moral imperative entrusted to her that she was able to choose what was right and alter the course of history.
This conference certainly conveyed to our student delegation the responsibility America has in this world and the commitment it must always have to Israel. To say that the experience was impactful does not sufficiently convey enough. This experience provided us the opportunity to take part in a moment of history. And it is because of this reason that it served as a powerful avenue of engagement with these students who will take what they learned about America's support of Israel onto their campuses through the IEC's continued commitment to them moving forward.
We all walked away from this conference with a much clearer understanding of the crossroads that this country now faces, and the serious decisions that both our nation and Israel must grapple with in the near future. But one thing is for certain—America has been entrusted with a responsibility that our commitment to Israel's safety, security, and continuing prosperity must continue to remain unshakeable.