St. Louisans at AIPAC meet with Missouri legislators

Young members of the St. Louis delegation to the AIPAC conference in Washington, D.C., meet with Sen. Claire McCaskill. 

BY ERIC BERGER, Staff Writer

Yonah Shafner did not expect to have such intimate meetings with Missouri Senators Roy Blunt and Claire McCaskill at the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference.  

But on Tuesday morning he and about 20 other people from St. Louis walked into the offices of the Republican and Democratic senators and just had a “normal conversation” on Israel, said Shafner, a senior at Yeshivat Kadimah High School who attended the conference for the first time this year.

The senators were “not figurative [people] that I have never met or seen but [people] who care about our issues and are willing to listen to us,” Shafner said. 

He was not the only one who enjoyed the lobbying, speakers and panel discussions at the pro-Israel gathering March 26-28 in Washington D.C., which attracted more than 18,000 people. There were about 70 people who made the trip from St. Louis, including 18 students from Washington University and eight high school students with the Jewish Student Union of St. Louis.

Shafner and others said they were impressed with the way people from different political places were able to find common ground in supporting the Jewish State. 

“We sometimes think you either support Israel or you don’t, but here everyone is coming from a different background and looking for different reasons to support Israel,” said Shafner, whose dad, Rabbi Hyim Shafner of Bais Abraham Congregation, recently accepted a job with a Modern Orthodox synagogue in Washington. 

But before that move, the younger Shafner got a sense of life in the capital. He noticed how “everyone here is involved with politics” and looked outside from the convention center and saw that the whole street was blocked off with protesters, some of whom had a gigantic Pinocchio statute to say that people at the conference were lying about Israel. 

“They must have a reason why they are so passionate about the other side; it makes you realize that everyone thinks they are right,” he said.

Marcy and Rick Cornfeld, the chairs of the St. Louis AIPAC Council, attended the conference for the 12th time. They were impressed with the speech by Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, in part because of past criticisms that the U.N. has an anti-Israel bias and that the United States did not sufficiently support Israel against U.N. actions.

“She’s very clear and strong on her support for Israel, and the way the U.N. has handled Israel in the past — she wants to see that changed,” said Marcy Cornfeld.

Rick Cornfeld was impressed by Blunt, who he said closed the lobbying session by saying that it was “his goal that there will be no one more supportive of Israel in Congress than him, and I said, ‘Thank you. I think you have achieved that goal.’ ” 

Blunt last month introduced a bill that would cut off U.S. funding to the Palestinian Authority — which is about $400 million annually — “if they continue their policy of paying monetary rewards to terrorists and their surviving family members,” a release on the bill states.

Nate Turk, a Wash U sophomore, came away from his first AIPAC conference energized about continuing pro-Israel activism on campus and building bipartisan support among legislators.  

Of McCaskill and Blunt, he said, “I just thought it was amazing to see these two senators who are from very different sides of the political spectrum continually agree on Israel.”

Turk, who described himself as a moderate Democrat, said Tuesday that he and other students are already planning their next lobbying session with Blunt.