YUPAC Mission Sends More Than 200 Students to Washington to Lobby for Tougher Iran Sanctions

More than 200 Yeshiva University students participated in a lobbying mission to Washington, DC on November 30, 2011. Organized by the Yeshiva University Political Action Committee (YUPAC) and AIPAC campus liaisons Ethan Wasserman and Dina Muskin, the mission offered students the opportunity to lobby their congressmen and women on issues relating to Israel.

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“Without Congress’ support, Israel would be a very different country than we know today,” said Dina Muskin, ’12S.  “The good news is that members of Congress care what we think and as long as we make our voices heard, we have a good chance at seeing our opinions and passions turn into policy. That’s exactly what the lobbying process allows us to do—it gives us, Jewish American college students, the ability to affect change on a global level. That ability cannot be underestimated.”

The mission saw the largest group of YU students in the University’s history, with four packed buses heading south early Wednesday morning. “It’s the largest student lobby mission that AIPAC has ever been a part of,” Muskin said. “This mission gave the YU students a taste of what AIPAC is.”

The day’s programming, organized by YUPAC board members and AIPAC staff, included an array of speakers. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the first Jewish woman to represent the state of Florida and chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, started off the morning emphasizing that Israel must remain a bipartisan issue and that there is an urgent need for young leadership. “I love talking to young people,” said Wasserman Schultz. “I love to interact with young people who are supporters of a strong US-Israel relationship because you represent the future of our community and our country, and we’re counting on you to move America forward.”

Recounting her own rising to the House of Representatives at the age of 26, Wasserman Schultz encouraged students to get involved on campus. “What’s important is that you’re passionate about the issues that are close to your heart,” she said. “Use that passion to stand up for the things that you believe in.” The congresswoman also spoke about the impact that her Jewish heritage has had on her approach to politics, policy and the world. “I bring my love of Israel to work with me every day. Be a voice for Israel, be an advocate, a champion. Whether it’s being a chisel or a sledgehammer, it’s really important that we push hard.”

After a presentation by AIPAC’s Jonathan Kessler and Ester Kurz, students proceeded to Capitol Hill to meet with senators, congressmen and policy advisors, to call attention to pressing matters. “Issues on the table included $3 billion in aid to Israel, tougher Iranian sanctions, and urging our government to not agree to the Palestinian bid for statehood and instead talking directly with Israel,” said Ethan Wasserman ’12YC.

Participants also heard from House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, the highest-ranking Jewish member of Congress in history. “These are momentous times for Israel and certainly for the United States,” he said. “Israel is facing [an enemy that is] absolutely unwilling to accept it as a Jewish state, to accept our respect for human life and decency. Until we get over that, there will be no peace. The problem in the Middle East is not that Israel will not extend a hand in peace. The problem has always been of her neighbors refusing to accept her right to exist.”

Students on both sides of the political spectrum spoke excitedly about their meetings with representatives.  “Our meetings were an effective and timely reminder that the ‘issue’ we’re lobbying for may be overseas, but [that] we cannot risk ‘out of sight, out of mind’ here,” said Leora Niderberg ’12S, president of the Torah Activities Council. “Iran is literally a time bomb that needs to be dealt with immediately and can’t be left on the back burner like so many other forgotten bills.”

“It was very heartening to see so many students acting passionately in defense of Israel,” said Chesky Kopel, ’13YC, editor-in-chief of YU’s Kol Hamevaser. “If we turn our passion toward a peace solution for Israel as well, I believe we can really surprise ourselves.”

Wasserman believes that the students lobbying efforts had an immediate impact. “The day after we all lobbied, the Senate voted by a 100-0 vote to pass the amendment regarding Iran sanctions that we pushed for,” said Wasserman. “It is crucial that we show Congress how important it is to us that they keep voting for pro-Israel legislation. We can make a difference and it is our responsibility to do so. ”

The 2011 YUPAC Lobby Mission was sponsored in part by the following organizations: ICC Israel Advocacy Grant Program, AVI CHAI Foundation, SCWSC, TAC, YSU, YCSA, and SYMS Student Councils.

The author, Avital Chizhik, ’12S, is studying English and journalism as part of the S. Daniel Abraham Honors Program at Yeshiva University. She is currently president of the Israel Club and section editor at The YU Commentator.