Hopkins American Partnership for Israel (HAPI) members traveled to the United States Capitol last Thursday for a day of advocacy in support of a strong bilateral relationship between the United States and Israel.
HAPI members met with the chiefs of staff and foreign policy advisers of Representatives Carolyn McCarthy, Chris Collins, Steve Israel, Peter King and Sean Patrick Maloney of New York and Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland.
“One of our goals is to engage with not just students on campus but also with members of Congress in Washington, D.C., because those are the people who are enacting policy and pushing legislation and we want to establish relationships with people who make things happen in terms of American foreign policy,” HAPI Co-President junior Jonathan Hettleman said.
HAPI bills itself as “a nonpartisan, nondenominational, political pro-Israel group” that works to facilitate conversations between student leaders and members of Congress.
“We’re not prescriptive in the sense that we don’t really have a vision of policy that we would like to see other than making sure that the U.S.-Israel relationship is maintained and strengthened,” Hettleman said.
“That’s really the key focus for us. Whether it’s Democrats or Republicans or whomever we’re meeting with, the message is clearly that we believe it’s in the United States’ best interest to maintain strong ties with Israel.”
Among the topics that students discussed with elected officials were joint American-Israeli economic and military ventures, the civil war in Syria, instability in Jordan, political changes in Egypt and international sanctions to halt the Iranian nuclear program.
“For me, a highlight of the lobby trip was being able to meet with the foreign affairs advisors of newly elected members of congress,” freshman Mikey Weiss, a member of HAPI, said. “It was great meeting with Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney’s advisor who informed us how staunchly pro-Israel the Congressman was, and I had no idea.”
“It is so important for us, especially as students, to vocalize to our congressional offices the issues that we deeply care about, and in this case, a strong U.S.-Israel relationship. And while at times we may have been preaching to the choir, just the same, it is important for us to vocalize our appreciation for them prioritizing Israel in their legislative agendas,” Weiss said.
The trip was organized in conjunction with the University of Maryland chapter of HAPI; five students from the University of Maryland joined three students from Hopkins on Capitol Hill.
“We went as a joint school initiative with the pro-Israel group at University of Maryland. It was great to establish an inter-school network between the pro-Israel students at Hopkins and Maryland,” Weiss said.
The group stresses that it believes that lobbying is the most effective way for students to impact the dialogue about the special relationship between the United States and Israel.
Students on the HAPI trips were also able to gain a strong sense of the political workings in Washington.
“There are three ways people can get politically involved in pro-Israel advocacy directly. They could be a lay leader, a person in their community who works with policy makers, and is influential, maybe with money, in order to develop a bond and help legislation get passed. They can be a policy maker, someone who actually creates the policy, maybe someone in Congress,” HAPI liaison Nicole Babaknia said. “Or they could work for a lobby, and be a constituent and lobby their congressman from their personal experience, show them why it’s important to them.”
The day of lobbying on Capitol Hill came on the heels of a recent trip to the Israeli Embassy on Feb. 15 by eleven members of HAPI.
Students on that trip met with an Israeli diplomat who was in Egypt during the Arab Spring revolution.
HAPI members also received a surprise visit from the Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren and his wife Sally Oren.
“We hear a knock on the door and we had no clue what it was,” Babaknia said. “They had told us that the [Oren] might come but he somehow got in and said ‘Hi, I heard you guys are from Hopkins,’ and he was so nice and shook all of our hands. We got to talk to him for a little bit.”
HAPI hopes to bring Ambassador Oren to the Homewood campus to speak sometime in the near future.