Students lobby congressmen on Israel issues

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About 50 GW students joined students from four universities around the region for a day-long session promoting Israel on Capitol Hill on Tuesday.

Members of the George Washington Acting Politically for Israel, or “GAP,” student organization, took to the Hill and met with dozens of senators and representatives to discuss U.S. support for Israel.

Joshua Brown, freshman co-president of GAP and the event’s organizer, said the day’s goal was to give students concerned about Israel the opportunity to learn how they could use the political process to bolster U.S. support for the Jewish state.

“It’s in the Constitution for us to have our right to petition our members of Congress,” Brown said. “So for us not to use that right is to waste it.”

At 2:30 p.m., Brown and three other students huddled in a circle at the back corner of Democratic Idaho Representative Walt Minnick’s main office, speaking with his legislative assistant for foreign policy. Armed with talking points from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, students touched on a broad range of issues – from Iran to Gaza, while raising questions about how the Congressman felt about them.

The next stop was down the hall to the office of Mark Kirk, R- Ill., where another group of three GW students and one from American were patiently waiting for their 3 p.m. appointment with the congressman.

For many students involved in the event, Tuesday afternoon was their first attempt at lobbying Congress, so they spent the morning in AIPAC’s national headquarters where they prepared for their afternoon meetings.

While there AIPAC directors briefed students on important geopolitical policy issues to bring up while speaking with their member of Congress.

Students then broken into group sessions where Brown said they learned how to “send a concise, direct, personalized, and persuasive message to congress so that students would be as confident and prepared as possible.”

GW alumni also aided GAP’s preparations, who now populate the halls of Congress as staffers.

“GW has a tremendous amount of staffers working on the Hill,” Brown said. “When you call up saying that you want some help, they’re willing to lend a hand because they were in your position some years back.”

Brown said that at the end of the afternoon, one participant told him that their member of Congress expressed a definite interest in helping further the group’s cause.

“Now the students will build a relationship with their member of congress so that they will be able to affect policy today, tomorrow, a month from now and a year from now,” Brown said. “Every person who came out of today feels empowered, like they made a difference, and now we’re going to be more passionate about making a difference.”

Freshman Jessica Fern said the politicians she spoke with were receptive to the students’ concerns.

“The response was incredible,” she said. “The congressman and staffers couldn’t have been more sincere. They engaged us, asked us questions and were really interested to know our personal opinions in addition to the agenda we were trying to set forth.”

Fern said that one of her fellow lobbyists made such an impression on staffers during their meeting that she was offered an internship on the spot.

“If we could start planning our next lobbying event today I’d be the first one at the meeting,” Fern said.

In all, some 35 congressional meetings were scheduled as a result of GAP’s efforts. Brown said planning for the event started six months ago with a core group of 20 or so GW students, but interest quickly spread by word of mouth.

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