What do Bakari Sellers, an African-American attorney and politician from South Carolina, Yannick Tona, a survivor of the Rwandan genocide, and Dustin Rowe, an attorney and Christian activist from a tiny town in Oklahoma, have in common? Seemingly nothing, but upon closer inspection, there is one thing: they share a love for Israel. These men exemplify the broad spectrum of support and admiration for Israel highlighted at the AIPAC Policy Conference.
Each from different backgrounds, these men are drawn to Israel for various reasons. Bakari Sellers explained his affinity for Israel through lessons learned from his father. He said, “My father was a civil rights activist. His passion and determination taught me a lesson I have carried with me my entire life: when people have a thirst for freedom and justice, they can and will achieve incredible things.” The Jewish people share that same thirst for freedom and justice, and their success in creating — and determination to maintain — a place where these ideals can be realized is what draws Bakari Sellers to our cause.
Yannick Tona’s love for Israel was born from the nightmare of his own experience. After surviving a genocide in which many of his own family members were killed, he became aware of another country built from the ashes of a similar experience where people like him were able to rise up and create a vibrant and democratic state. To him, Israel serves as an example of what is the best in all of us — an archetype of human resilience and perseverance. For Dustin Rowe, his attachment to Israel grew from faith. He found that activism in support of Israel aligned with his Christian values.
These three men highlight the most important message that I took away from AIPAC. Although their backgrounds are about as different as one can imagine, they were brought together by a shared desire to support a tiny country that to them represents the highest human ideals. To these men, none of them Jews, Israel is a beacon of democracy, equality, and individual freedom that shines brightly in a region mired in autocracy and despotism. The vision of these three men helped me appreciate the pride we should all feel in the Jewish homeland.