Lessons from my first ZOA Gala

As a member of the Stevens College Republicans, I have had many opportunities throughout the year to attend different events around the NYC area. I, along with nine other members, was lucky enough to be selected to go to this year’s Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) Awards Gala. For me, this was the first major public event that I had ever been to, so it was a little intimidating at first knowing that some very prominent people would be in attendance. I honestly had no clue what was going to happen other than eating a really fancy dinner and having the chance to network with a bunch of students and members of this community.

The night began with a really nice cocktail hour filled with lots of food, music, and dancing. While I did not participate in the dancing (something that no one would ever want to see), I had the chance to get to know the members of College Republicans much better. Before going on this trip, they were all just other faces in the crowd during meetings, but now I know a little bit about each of them and feel a stronger sense of community. While I never really had the chance to talk with any people who were directly affiliated with the organization, I was still able to get the impression that these were people who just wanted to get out and have a good time. I expected to hear many political conversations going on around the room, but they were actually few and far between. People were introducing themselves and swapping stories, not political opinions.

During dinner, we heard from some very important people within the Zionist community. Just by listening to them, I realized that these people are considered radicals by many on the opposite side of the aisle. But the main point that I kept hearing throughout the evening was that the Jewish people felt that this area of the world was their homeland granted to them by God. Many speakers quoted the Bible as well as many well-known historical facts about the Jewish people who lived in Israel thousands of years ago. I never had the feeling that these people wanted to remove Palestinians from the area, but they wanted to coexist without any hostility. At the same time, this opened my eyes to what Zionists would consider a radical on the opposite side of the spectrum. Boiling down the facts, it seemed that to them it was radical to believe that the Jews had absolutely no right to live on that land. I found this a little ironic because of the facts they presented.

I also find it very important to take what all these people said with a grain of salt. While I 100% support the right of Israel to exist in its current state, I can also understand the other side of the argument as well. Palestinians may not have moved into the area until recently, but they were still on that land for generations without being kicked off. This is really where the whole “two-state solution” comes into play. Both sides have legitimate claims to the land, but no argument completely trumps the other.

By the end of the night, the two most well-known gentlemen got up to speak: former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon and Senator Tom Cotton from Arkansas. Bannon gave a very impassioned speech, showing his support for President Trump as well as the Zionist movement. While he did not touch upon any current events, other than the plan to move the U.S. embassy into Jerusalem, it was still very interesting to listen to him. An organization like this giving him an award makes the radical left’s call of him a Nazi even more ironic now. (By the way, for anyone who didn’t know, the Nazis were/are a socialist organization. Oh, and Richard Spencer, the white supremacist, is a socialist for reference.) To be honest, I was disappointed in Cotton’s speech, while it was well written and delivered, it sounded very similar to the speeches that I had heard for the past three hours. There was no enthusiasm to it, which is unlike the senator who has been known to be passionate during TV interviews.

My main takeaway from the night is that not everything is the way it appears. Areas where I expected disappointment, I found to be some of the best moments of the night and vice versa. If you ever have the chance to attend a formal political event, conservative or liberal, I highly recommend it. It may be an eye-opening experience.