Grassroots Student Groups Calmly Tackle Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Take Less Confrontational Approach Than National Groups

Field Lessons: The Olive Tree Initiative brings students to Israel and the Palestinian areas, where they learn both sides’ narratives.
Courtesy of the Olive Tree Initiative
Field Lessons: The Olive Tree Initiative brings students to Israel and the Palestinian areas, where they learn both sides’ narratives.

By Seth Berkman

Published February 10, 2013, issue of February 08, 2013.
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The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has long been a fiery subject on college campuses, with national pro-Israel groups and, to a lesser extent, their pro-Palestinian counterparts vying to influence the debate.

Alongside such heavy hitters as Hillel or the Muslim Students Association, smaller, student-created groups have cropped up. These grassroots groups often focus on dialogue rather than debate, seeking to impact and advance campus conversation on the Mideast.

The composition of these student-run groups differs, as do their methods of addressing the issues, but each firmly believes that a fresh approach to the conflict is needed across college campuses in the United States. Here are five to watch.

Harvard College Progressive Jewish Alliance
Harvard University

“A really important way to show you care about these communities is to criticize them.”

The Harvard College Progressive Jewish Alliance was founded in 1988 as the university’s chapter of New Jewish Agenda, a national human rights group, and separated to form an independent entity shortly thereafter. Today, it organizes programming to endorse a two-state solution; equal rights for Israelis and Palestinians; feminism; LGBT rights and environmental sustainability.

Recently, PJA has hosted speakers from Breaking the Silence, a group of IDF veterans who speak out against Israeli military policy. The group also spoke with students going on Taglit-Birthright Israel trips, with the goal of educating them about the full spectrum of cultural life in Israel.

But the group hasn’t had an unequivocally warm reception on Harvard’s campus.


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