Super Tuesday? Or Super Fiasco?

AIPAC holds annual policy conference at the height of the Democratic primaries 

By Gabriela Wellman (‘20)

AIPAC 2020 (1)

AIPAC attendees take their seats before the General Sessions screens.  Photo: Gabriela Wellman (‘20)

Election years are notorious for their heated debates and ever-changing polls; especially infamous are the neck-in-neck primaries as candidates fight to win their party’s nomination. 

Every four years, presidential hopefuls travel all across the country trying to swing votes in their direction in each state’s primary or caucus. However, the be-all and end-all of the election year’s national convention stage omes in early March: Super Tuesday. 

Super Tuesday is the date when primaries are held in 14 states including California, Texas, Massachusetts, Alabama, and Virginia among others, accounting for over one third of the total delegate votes. In preparation for this critical date, candidates focus all of their energy on conquering the hearts and minds, and votes, of states’ residents. 

The importance surrounding Super Tuesday is well known among politically-minded groups, so why, then, did AIPAC schedule its annual policy conference for 2020 to coincide with the same date? Was it a political statement? An error in scheduling? Whatever the reason, the high-hopes held for AIPAC 2020 quickly plummeted. 

At AIPAC 2020, attendees represented all 50 states, both political parties, and many schools and universities across the nation, including San Diego Jewish Academy. 

“It was kind of disappointing that the presidential candidates couldn’t come because of the primaries. I thought since it’s an election  year, this was one of the best years to attend the conference,” Daniela Surpin (‘21) said after the first general session on Sunday morning. 

Bibi Netanyahu (March 2020)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu via live video feed during the AIPAC Afternoon General Session on Sunday, March 1, 2020. Photo: Gabriela Wellman (‘20). 

Democratic front runner Joe Biden, as well as recent dropouts Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobucar, publically opted to skip the conference. However, they later decided to submit  prerecorded video messages to be played at the general sessions. (Buttigieg’s video, for some reason, was never shown). Elizabeth Warren also decided not to attend the conference but made no official statement. 

Bernie Sanders, Biden’s main opponent for the nomination, vocally refused to attend the conference, tweeting that he “remains concerned about the platform AIPAC provides for leaders who express bigotry and oppose basic Palestinian rights.” Sanders’ statement sparked outrage from many AIPAC supporters. 

AIPAC’s public response criticized Sander’s position, saying, “by engaging in such an odious attack on the mainstream, bipartisan American political event, Senator Sanders is insulting his very own colleagues and the millions of Americans who stand with Israel. Truly shameful.” Additionally, in a live video feed, Prime Minister Netanyahu shamed Sanders by speaking out against his “libelous” accusations.

The only Democratic candidate who was in attendance was Michael Bloomberg. Speaking out against Senator Sanders’ decision to openly reject AIPAC for 30 consecutive years, Bloomberg shouted, “Let me tell you, he is dead wrong!” 

 

AIPAC 2020 - Bloomberg

Presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg addresses the crowd live during the Morning General Session on Monday, March 2, 2020. Photo: Gabriella Surpin (‘19).

Despite the negative commentary from, and about, the Democratic candidates surrounding the event, and, specifically, its chosen date, the conference managed to amaze its attendees. “Even though the political candidates were unable to attend, it was still an amazing experience,” enthused Ilan Leisorek (‘20). “I loved learning about the way Israel is moving forward technologically and developing products that can help every country around the world.”

SDJA alumnus Sharon Cohen (‘18) reflected, “It was empowering to see world politicians, including the President of the Republic of Serbia and the President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, pledge their allegiance to Israel and promise to take steps towards furthering their relationship with the Jewish state. Just to have the opportunity to see Republicans and Democrats all in one room, supporting one cause, was beyond incredible.”

Throughout the conference, speakers stressed the importance of standing behind Israel and supporting the mutually beneficial relationship between Israel and the United States. The speakers, of all races, ages, and political affiliations, continuously criticized those who spoke out against AIPAC and demonstrated, time and time again, that the institution, founded in 1963, is anything but prejudiced. 

Some speakers even dared to call critics unpatriotic. New Jersey Senator Cory Booker said, “We need to understand that patriotism is a love of country, and you cannot love your country unless you love your fellow countrymen and women.”

So, super fiasco? Definitely not. 

AIPAC exceeded all expectations and showed its attendees that even in the face of criticism and hatred the American-Israeli alliance will rise above. 

 

Can Israeli Politics Thrive at SDJA? 

By Dalia Gerson (’23) and Rosie Alchalel (’21)

Netanyahu & Gantz - Wellman (January 2020)

Illustration by Gaby Wellman (‘20)

BIBI CHAIM SHELI, Sharon Cohen (‘20) proudly scribbles on Mrs. Webber’s whiteboard during the busy Yearbook class period. This simple Hebrew phrase roughly translates to “Bibi is my life,” alluding to Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel. 

“Are you crazy?” Gaby Wellman (‘20) wittily remarks, “I think you misspelled Gantz,” referring to Netanyahu’s most prominent political opponent, Benny Gantz. 

Both inside and outside the classroom, this year’s Israeli elections have slowly taken over SDJA. No surprise considering that the school has Israel rooted in its foundation, seen in such facts as the Lower School being named for Prime Minister Golda Meir, the larger-than-life portrait of Theodor Herzl in the MUS lobby, and the annual schoolwide Israel week celebration in late January and early February. 

Although students tend to maintain loyalty to the United States by tuning into American politics more than they do to the situation in Israel, politics in Israel continue to play a strong role in students’ lives. And while most, if not all, SDJA students share a love for the Jewish state, many differ in their political ideology and their hopes for the state. But how much do they really know about Israeli politics? How deeply do they care about the future of their home away from home? 

Many students from non-Israeli backgrounds, such as Eli Lerner (‘21), do, in fact, follow Israeli politics. “It is the home of the Jewish people and I have a connection to it,” Lerner comments. “I check to see how it is doing.” Similarly, Gaby Wellman cares about Israeli politics because, as she says, “Israel is a country that I hold close to my heart.” 

Yonatan Boukobza (‘23), who is visiting from Beer Sheva, Israel for a year, thinks that it is important to follow the politics of both Israel and the United States. Israeli politics matter to him because Israel is his home while “American politics also matter because they can help Israel because the U.S. is stronger.”

Mr. Torens' Jewish Values in the Israel-Palestine Conflict Class (January 2020)

High School students sit attentively during Mr. Jeremy Toren’s Jewish Values and Israeli Palestinian Conflict class.  Photo by Rosie Alchalel (‘21)

 

But where are these students getting all of their information from? 

Some students, such as Eitan Breziner (‘20) and Reef Gonen (‘22), turn to Israeli news outlets like Ynet in order to stay updated, yet the majority of SDJA students rely on social media. Rikki Dorfan (‘22) stays updated by viewing the Daily Mail story on Snapchat, and Talia Abu (‘22) uses social media to stay connected with current news. 

Instead of allowing students to rely solely on the media for the news, the SDJA Hebrew department sees it as its mission to provide students with Israeli political knowledge. Morah Shira graciously shared some insight about the class with The Lions’ Den: “We cover the current issues and current news in Israel, especially the elections, without giving any opinion, using just facts about what’s happening.” Additionally, a lot of students turn to Morah Shira outside of class. She claims that students come to her with questions about the topic “at least once a week.” 

As well as acquiring information about Israel from the Hebrew department, many students enroll in the Israeli Palestinian Conflict class led my Mr.Toren. While this semester-long class does not emphasize current events, politics do play a role in its curriculum. “A big part of our discussions [focus on] the connection between values and politics,” comments Mr. Toren. 

Overall, the task at hand is educating more students about the issues that matter in Israeli politics so they can develop their own opinions and decide how deeply they want to get involved. Many students feel as though a course strictly about Israeli politics would be beneficial. Eli Lerner (‘22) thinks that  “a class [like that] would be cool because I know I am not as educated as I could be.” Talia Abu (22’) says that it could be a good idea “if it is in a way that is unbiased.” It seems that the challenge is about keeping it factual and objective in order for people to freely develop their own opinions.

While the school definitely has room to grow in its coverage of Israeli politics, one thing is for certain: conversations between students will continue to circle around their beloved homeland.