Student body vice president (VP) Vincent Smith traveled to Washington D.C. for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference over spring break from March 24-26.
AIPAC is a bipartisan lobbying group that advocates for pro-Israel policies. The conference had over 18,000 people in attendance, including over two-thirds of U.S. Congress and over 3,600 students, according to AIPAC’s website.
Smith was first approached about attending AIPAC last fall. He attended a different, smaller conference in January with about 80 other African-American student leaders. After that experience, Smith said it piqued his interest in attending AIPAC’s policy conference. Smith’s entire trip was funded by AIPAC, and he was able to attend talks specifically geared toward student leaders as part of the conference.
Smith said previously he did not know much about AIPAC or its politics, but became more interested in attending after speaking with students in Hillel about the anti-Semitism bill they wrote in conjunction with Associated Student Government (ASG).
“I thought it was interesting to learn more about [U.S.-Israel relations],” Smith said. “I was interested in that and the foreign policy.”
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict centers around which nation has a right to the land upon which Israel currently inhabits.
“It just doesn’t make sense why [ASG] would get involved in politics at all,” said Zaim Haq, president of the Muslim Students’ Association [Haq is a photographer for The Student]. “It just seems like a move that would alienate people on either side.”
The conference held general sessions with high-profile speakers including VP Mike Pence, Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. There were breakout sessions where attendees could choose which topics they wanted to learn more about, with subjects like innovation or international law in Israel.
Smith said one of the main focuses of the policy conference was bipartisanship.
“Hearing about both sides of it, as well, was kind of interesting that there’s people on both sides of the aisle, at least with this issue, working together,” Smith said.
Smith said one of his biggest takeaways from the conference was seeing how federal government functions in a similar manner to ASG and how Congress is working together toward a common goal.
ASG’s Secretary for Diversity and Inclusion Courtney Rose had planned to attend along with Smith, but could not go due to illness.
In total, 17 Miami students attended the policy conference. The majority of these students are involved with Hillel, Students for Israel or other pro-Israel organizations. All of ASG’s executive cabinet was invited to attend, but everyone else declined.
“[AIPAC] wants us to reach out to student government because they know all the leaders of these clubs are the future leaders of the United States, so it was really exciting to have Vince [come to the conference],” said Hannah Stein, co-president of HawkPAC, a political subcommittee within Students for Israel that works with AIPAC. “I’m just hoping to continue building that relationship and get more people from ASG and College Republicans and College Democrats to go in the future.”
However, Haq was confused why ASG would send a representative to AIPAC.
ASG has solicited the Muslim Students’ Association for opportunities to collaborate on legislation before, such as the recent anti-Semitism bill, where Haq gave feedback.
But ASG’s choice to appear at AIPAC could be interpreted as choosing sides of the Israel-Palestine conflict, Haq said.
“I don’t know how that would specifically help the student government,” Haq said.