Daily Israel Report

Standing With Israel - Outside AIPAC

As a record 14,000 attend Washington pro-Israel conference, Arutz Sheva speaks to activists who chose to show their support from outside.
By Ari Soffer
First Publish: 3/3/2014, 6:15 PM

Pro- and anti-Israel activists at AIPAC conf.
Pro- and anti-Israel activists at AIPAC conf.
Arutz Sheva

This year's AIPAC Policy Conference saw the largest ever attendance at the group's annual event at Washington D.C., with 14,000 delegates from across the US descending on the capital in an impressive show of support for Israel.

But while most supporters of the Jewish state were inside the building, a handful remained outside to counter a gaggle of anti-Israel activists demonstrating across the street.

The anti-Israel presence was notably small and consisted of voices from the political fringes - mostly the hard-left and members of the radical anti-Zionist Neturei Karta sect, which recently declared its support for Hungary's fascist Jobbik party.

Most AIPAC supporters simply ignored them, but a few pro-Israel activists chose to face them down with signs and chants of their own.

One such activist was Helen Freedman, Executive Director of Americans For a Safe Israel (AFSI) - an advocacy group which has been vocal in its support for Israel's claim to Judea and Samaria.

Freedman told Arutz Sheva that she was unruffled by the hostility of the anti-Zionist protesters. 

"We're saying that the Land of Israel belongs to the people of Israel. We know that that's the truth and it doesn't bother us," she said.

Citing the Levy Report, which affirmed the legality of Israel's presence in Judea and Samaria, Freedman said that most opposition to Israel was simply the result of ignorance.

"I wish they were educated, I wish they understood" that international law was on the side of Israel, she said of the demonstrators.

Her daughter Judy remarked that she was surprised at just how few anti-Israel protesters turned up.

"I am amazed at how few people are out here... protesting against the 14,000 people who are here for AIPAC," she said.

She agreed that most opponents of Israel were "sadly uneducated", but added that regardless, the Jewish people "have every right to live in and enjoy and have safety in a nation that is our own."

Another pro-Israel activist who remained outside to counter-protest was Gary Acheatal, founder and director of Advocates for Israel - a grassroots group which seeks to complement AIPAC's own work from the bottom up.

AIPAC's work was clearly important, he said, but noted that grassroots activism and awareness-raising is equally crucial.

"If Congress doesn't have the support of the people, we'll lose Congress. It's a democracy, Congress is going to go where the people are," he explained.

Acheatal added that anti-Israel "propaganda" is undertaken with this fact in mind, and designed "to sever support from America to Israel" among the general public.

Echoing the sentiments of other pro-Israel activists outside the Washington Conference Center, he insisted that education is key, and maintained that the Jewish community itself needed to be more active in that regard.

To that end, Advocates for Israel recently launched an initiative to lobby synagogues to declare their support for Israel.

"The [Jewish] children end up going to college campuses and are barraged by this kind of activity," he said, referring to the anti-Israel activists behind him, adding that in many cases, the Jewish communities were failing to educate the Jewish college students on how to respond. 

But despite any such failings, the sheer variety and number of people who turned out in solidarity with the Jewish state - including an unprecedented 2,300 student activists - were a clear illustration of how popular support for Israel in the US remains strong both within and outside of the Jewish community.