Israel lobbyists honor student organization

A pro-Israel student organization was nationally recognized last week at the 2009 American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s Policy Conference with a prestigious award given to students who demonstrate excellence in pro-Israel advocacy.

More than 400 other colleges and universities from all 50 states participated in AIPAC activities this year but only “GW Acting Politically for Israel” – also known as GAP Israel – went home with the Duke Rudman Leadership Award. Several prominent U.S. and Israeli leaders attended the conference, including Vice President Joe Biden, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, Israeli President Shimon Peres and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Josh Brown, co-president of GAP Israel, said members of the organization are driven to make an impact in D.C.

“This year, GW Acting Politically for Israel started off as a group of students with the vision of creating a student organization that would allow pro-Israel students on campus to make as much of an impact on campus and in Washington as possible,” Brown said in an e-mail.

GAP Israel also benefited from familiarity with AIPAC, said Jessica Fern, GAP’s grassroots director.

“When deciding which campus should receive various awards, the department already has a clear idea of what each campus has dealt with in terms of opposition, how they have acted proactively, how they have reached out to their respective student bodies and how effective they have been in promoting the relationship between the U.S. and Israel,” Fern said in an e-mail.

The organization has about 200 members and is comprised of a diverse group of students, Fern added.

“As an organization, we are distinct from other groups in that we are a consensus organization: we are Jewish, non-Jewish, Democratic, Republican – anyone that supports Israel and the core issues surrounding Israeli foreign policy can find a place in GAP,” she said.

Brown said GAP Israel strives to ensure that all “future leaders enrolled at GW” understand pro-Israel perspectives.

“The goal of our engagement is to ensure that when these student leaders are in the position to make influential decisions on US-Israel relationship, they come to our members to contemplate their decision and make it in favor of the relationship,” Brown said.

Cory Struble, the outgoing president of GW College Democrats, said he worked with GAP this year to provide Democrats with opportunities to get involved as pro-Israel advocates on Capitol Hill.

“GAP has been incredibly active for a new organization – their leaders moved quickly this year to establish positive working relationships with political groups across campus,” Struble said in an e-mail. “As a result of their hard work, they have greatly escalated the visibility and presence of the pro-Israel activist community on campus.”

GAP lobbied on Capitol Hill in February, when more than 130 students advocated for pro-Israel relations.

“Our lobbying missions empowers our student activists to understand the power that they have as citizens of the United States and how they can use that power to make a tremendously positive difference with an issue that they are passionate about,” Brown said.

David Victor, the president of AIPAC, praised the organization at the conference.

“Their leadership offers a model of innovation, organization, and strategic focus, and a textbook example of how to create and sustain a bold and forceful political movement,” he said.

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