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January 30, 2009     Heritage Florida Jewish News
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January 30, 2009

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PAGE 1OA = HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, JANUARY 30, 2009 How AIPAC makes friends AIPAC Bakari Sellers (I), with Nick Miccarelli and Maine lawmaker Alex Cornell du Houx, speaks in Washington at an AIPAC winter leadership seminar for college students. By Eric Fingerhut WASHINGTON (JTA)--It all started with a cold call. Bakari Sellers was moving into his student government office as president of More- house College one day in 2004 when he picked up the phone and AIPAC staffers Jonathan Kessler and Michael Glassman were on the other end. They were calling up the student body presidents of historically bla~k colleges and universities andinviting them to the pro- Israel lobby's annual policy conference. Sellers said he didn't know anything about AIPAC at the time--but he believed in be- ing open-minded. "The voice on the other end sounded kind of nurturing and understanding, and I said I don't have anything to lose," Sellers recalled. In the end, his experience at the AIPAC parley was so positive and memorable that the 24-year-old has been to four more policy conferences. More importantly, Sellers is beginning his second term as a member of the South Carolina House of Representatives this month, and he credits AIPAC with helping him acquire some of the skills and contacts that assisted him in his suc- cesful bid to become a state lawmaker. "The way I'm able to com- municate, the exposure, the people that I've met--a lot of people I've met at the AIPAC policy conference became a huge part of my fund-raising base," Sellers said during an appearance in Washington late last month at AIPAC's biannual Saban Leadership Seminar for college stu- dents. Sellers joined two other recently elected state legisla- tors-all non-Jews, although AIPAC officials said that was not intentional--to speak at the seminar about their ex- periences with the pro-Israel organization. In an era when debates have raged over the tactics and influence of the pro- Israel lobby, the stories of how student leaders became and remained involved with AIPAC provides a window into how the organization is able to effectively cultivate relationships throughout the political world. "For many years we've worked to identify and engage future policymakers and opinion leaders," said Kessler, AIPAC's leadership develop- ment director. "It's a matter of becoming a Middle East resource for those who are ea- ger to understand these issues and their complexities." Key to AIPAC's approach to building support among future political leaders is its willingness to give young activists lots of responsibility, from lobbying their home- town members of Congress to setting up programs on their campuses. "There aren't that many people saying" to college-age men and women that "we want to invest in you" and "we're going to show you how you can make a difference," Kessler said. December's Saban seminar attracted 400 students, about a quarter of whom, according to AIPAC, were not Jewish. University of Minnesota senior Julia Krieger was one, attending her seventh Saban seminar. Her involvement began as a freshman, when her Jewish roommate, knowing she was interested in politics, introduced her to a friend who was starting an AIPAC group on campus. Her first Saban retreat, Krieger recalled, was exciting and eye opening because of the "passion" for political activism that was on display. "I saw peoplewhoweren'tas apathetic as I had seen on my campus and high school," she said. "Everyonewas politically active just like me." "It's cool to be around people united in one cause or one thing," said Lance Bon- ner, a junior at the University of Pittsburgh who attended his first Saban seminar last month. B0nner was invited by a leader of the campus pro- Israel organization after his appointment last semester to the student government board. Seeing so many other polit- ically active students "makes you want to be politically active" and "do something positive with your commu- nity," he said. Krieger has subsequently become involved both in her campus pro-Israel group and campus and state Col- lege Democrats, and said she "never would have had the same type of confidence in organizing for elections" without AIPAC. Krieger said she hadn't known much about Israel or the Middle East before her involvement with AIPAC, but was attracted to the cause of supporting the Jewish state because of human rights issues. "The fact that women can vote and serve in the army, that gay people can marry--that was something that really got my attention," she said. Sellers also said he had little knowledge of the Middle East when he received the call five years ago from Kessler and Glassman, the AIPAC national field director, "but I knew my horizons were going to be broadened." While he quipped that "there might have been about six or seven black people" at that conference, "and I might be adding a few," Sellers said the opportunity to see mem- bers of Congress and other "people that one day you knew you wanted to grow up and be like" was pretty special. At the roll call of student government presidents on the conference's final evening, however, Sellers didn't hear his name read. He mentioned it to AIPAC staffers and they apologized, and told him they would make it up to him. The next morning, as Presi- dent Bush waited in the wings to speak, an announcement was made--thatSellers' name had been forgotten in the pre- vious night's roll call "That attention to detail, that coalition building, that message that they sent to me" is the reason so many people come to AIPAC events, said Sellers. His affiliation with AIPAC began with student govern- ment, but another member of the panel connected with the group as a leader of the College Republicans. Former College Republican co-chairman Nick Miccarelli, who was sworn in earlier this month as a member of the Pennsylvania House of Rep- resentatives, said the friends he made at the two policy con- ferences he attended and the AIPAC "Campus Alllies" trip to Israel he took "have helped me incredibly in my ventures back in Pennsylvania." "AIPAC allowed me to become friends with the fu- ture leaders of this country, Republican and Democrat," Miccarelli said. Miccarelli said he was a "100 percent supporter of Israel" before he ever found AIPAC, but the organization "really helped me hone some of my beliefs" and "turn those inherent beliefs I had into tangible and well-expressed policies." AIPAC on page 19A Registration school bells are ringing i / Taxes and laws are ever-changing. Is your financial advisor up-to-date.? Is your money earning up to its potential.? 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