The Jewish people reestablished their Jewish state which has survived 70 years, despite all of the wars Israel has had to fight. Facing political isolation, Israel has succeeded in the fields of technology, agriculture, medical research and groundbreaking water technology. We can only rejoice to see this young vibrant democracy standing strong against its enemies who busy themselves planning its destruction.
Who do we have to thank — who helped Israel survive these 70 years? Some give credit to the Heavens, while others credit the tough sabras who work so hard. I do not deny either of those but my first pragmatic response is AIPAC and the Israel-U.S. relationship. We take it for granted today, but Israel did not always have U.S. military support. France was Israel’s main weapons supplier until 1962. It was only in 1962 that the U.S. government agreed to sell anti-aircraft missiles to Israel, later followed by tanks in 1965 and attack aircraft in 1968. If not for AIPAC, Israel might not have everything it needs to defend itself.
It is precisely because AIPAC spends time with Congress — explaining the complicated landscape of the Middle East and bringing some of them to visit Israel – that American lawmakers come to understand that Israel loves freedom and wants peace. Moreover, they feel the similarities between our societies. Over time, Israel has become one of America’s strongest allies, sharing intelligence and providing support.
Looking forward to the AIPAC Policy Conference 2018, I left home at 4:30 a.m., unsuspecting the long trip that awaited me. Due to unusual 50+ mph winds in Washington D.C., many flights were cancelled. I was rerouted and had to stay overnight in Minneapolis. I finally arrived 36 hours later!
The conference officially opened on Sunday morning and I was so ready! More than 18,000 attended, with 1,800 alone from California. In addition, there are high school and college students, Jews and non-Jews, labor representatives, ministers and rabbis. So great to have them there — all united in our support for the only Jewish state.
Of course, there are Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives … that is the whole point. Without bipartisanship, AIPAC would be a total flop. We are a country with freedom of expression and AIPAC members value that. Just as the country is diverse, so too is Congress. The last day is lobbying day. We take buses up the hill to our nation’s capital to meet with Senators and Members of Congress. It is a very proud moment for me, daughter of two immigrants who were very proud of their new country. Then we can go home to our various states knowing that we have done good work.
Yes, I will continue to support AIPAC because no other organization plays such an important role, as recognized by Israel’s prime minister every year. Thank you AIPAC! Netanyahu always says and Shimon Peres said it too, because Congress is making very important, impactful decisions every day and the only way they get to hear is via AIPAC.
Rita Heller, President and co-founder of Training And Education About The Middle East (TEAM) is a child of Holocaust Survivors. Born and raised in Los Angeles, she was active at U.C.L.A. in the Student Zionist Alliance and attended a leadership training course in Israel. After relocating to France for 10 years and Wisconsin for 15 years, she returned to Southern California in 2003. A mother of two married sons, she continues her pro-Israel advocacy in San Diego.