Six Stanford students traveled to Washington, D.C., this week to attend the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference, headlined by speakers including President Barack Obama. Conference events began Sunday and will last through Tuesday.
Three out of the six Stanford students in attendance are ASSU representatives, including ASSU President Michael Cruz ’12, Deputy Chair of the Undergraduate Senate Dan Ashton ’14 and Senator Alon Elhanan ’14. Each student attending the conference, however, made an individual decision to attend the conference out of interest, not as a representative of the ASSU.
“I want to make this clear: Stanford is not sending anyone, [and the] ASSU is not sending anyone,” Cruz said, adding that the students in attendance are students who happen to be interested in national or international policy. “But Stanford student body presidents typically are invited to attend AIPAC,” he added.
Cruz said his predecessors have attended this conference, as well, “so it’s something of a tradition.”
According to Ashton, An AIPAC field organizer approached him as someone who might be interested in learning more about the American-Israeli relationship.
“I’m hoping to learn where the American-Israeli relationship is from the standpoint of American policymakers – to sort of see where the discussion is – because obviously right now it’s very much in the news with Iran and Israel possibly having conflict, so it’s something that’s probably on the forefront of a lot of people’s minds,” Ashton said. “I’m just interested in seeing where the dialogue is.”
Confirmed speakers for the conference include Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli President Shimon Peres and the U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. A number of U.S. representatives and senators will be in attendance as well.
Stanford students at AIPAC will be given the opportunity to interact with many of these people through breakout sessions.
“It’s really engaging with America’s policy makers,” Ashton said.
“There’s a lot of young people from all over the country and you get to see what young people all over the country are doing, which is really cool,” Elhanan said. “That’s sort of my goal, you know, just to meet interesting people as much as possible.”
Elhanan also attended the conference last year.
President Obama emphasized the importance of young people attending the AIPAC conference in a speech Sunday.
“Every time I come to AIPAC, I’m especially impressed to see so many young people here,” Obama said. “You carry with you an extraordinary legacy of more than six decades of friendship between the United States and Israel. And you have the opportunity – and the responsibility – to make your mark on the world.”
Cruz highlighted the trip as an opportunity to network with other student leaders.
“My biggest goal in terms of going on this trip is to interact with and ask fellow student body presidents some of the real issues of our day and see how other universities are approaching those issues,” Cruz said.