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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

BIPAC goes to Washington

Published: November 18, 2005
Section: News

The Brandeis Israel Public Affairs Committee (BIPAC) traveled to Washington, D.C. this week to lobby Congress and to attend a meeting at the White House.

The culmination of six months of planning, the trip connected 41 student activists with 25 congressional offices from 17 different states. Brandeis alum Ari Stein 04, a Legislative Assistant to a Texas congressman, told the group it was the largest Brandeis pro-Israel lobbying mission he could remember.
The group began its day at a special meeting in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building inside the White House Complex. There, BIPAC activists met with Jeff Berkowitz, the White House Liaison to the Jewish Community. Berkowitz discussed President Bushs national agenda and how it relates to the values of American Jews. After addressing the bipartisan group of students, Berkowitz answered several questions from the audience.

After meeting with Berkowitz, BIPAC spent six hours on Capitol Hill advancing its broad legislative agenda, including the passage of a bill called the Iran Freedom Support Act, which would limit American investment in Iran and deliver resources to indigenous pro-democracy groups. The activists also discussed foreign aid to Israel and the upcoming Palestinian parliamentary elections.

BIPAC members reported that their meetings were very productive. Even though most of the people I spoke to supported BIPACs views, the idea was to show them we were interested in keeping their political connection with Israel strong, said Sam Ackerman 08.

BIPAC President Jacob Baime 08 agreed. The U.S.-Israel relationship is strong because of generations of involvement in the political process, he said. It is absolutely critical that our generation continues this work.

The students attending the trip received exclusive political training from BIPAC. Among the topics covered were how to lobby Congress and how to replace debate with engagement as an effective advocacy tool. The activists seemed to especially enjoy the engagement training, which Baime conducted as the bus approached Washington, D.C.

Despite six months of detailed planning, the group encountered an unforeseeable setback. Just as their bus entered the District of Columbia, a driver error left the activists and the bus stranded in Southeast D.C. fifteen minutes before their appointment at the White House. BIPAC members then attempted to push the disabled bus off of a sidewalk. After a few failed attempts, BIPAC leaders crowded the group onto a D.C. Metro bus, which took them to their intended destination. The rest of the days activities were executed without incident.

Also unexpectedly, members of the House of Representatives decided to cancel votes for Monday. Fortunately, this had a negligible impact on BIPACs trip. BIPAC Advance Director Sarah Mulhern 08 explained, We were very excited about our meetings with staffers because these meetings are generally more productive than with congressmen themselves because they are experts in the areas we wanted to discuss.

Even though most of the Congressional staffers already supported BIPACs agenda, BIPAC maintains that it provided much-needed emphasis on and support for the issues. The greatest threat to the U.S.-Israel relationship is entropy, the tendency for relationships to collapse when not enough positive resources are poured into them, Baime explained. That is what this trip was aboutwe literally transferred human capital from Waltham to Jerusalem.

According to BIPAC leaders, Brandeis is a difficult campus to organize for pro-Israel political action. The challenge at Brandeis is to show students that cultural activities and religious activities and philanthropy and even advocacy are necessary, but not sufficient to keep the U.S.-Israel relationship strong, said BIPAC Vice President Michael Goldman 08. Advocacy without political action is like shouting into the wind.
While the organizers would like to have seen more students join them in D.C., they hope that the success of their trip will encourage more students to become political activists in the future. In the meantime, BIPAC is not complaining. The Trip, Goldman stated, was an unqualified success.