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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Last November, PJA was scheduled to host an event at the campus Hillel, “Jewish Voices Against the Israeli Occupation.” The event was co-sponsored by the Harvard College Palestine Solidarity Committee.

Hillel International told the Harvard chapter that the pro-Palestinian group’s co-sponsorship was against Hillel guidelines. PJA was forced to move its event, said PJA Chair Rachel Sandalow-Ash. Her group criticized Hillel in a public letter for “moving farther and farther from being ‘the foundation of Jewish campus life’ that it claims to be.”

Harvard Hillel Executive Director Rabbi Jonah C. Weinberg had a different take. When groups like PJA seek “meaningful and hopeful interactions with pro-Palestinian student associations, in hopes of increasing mutual awareness and understanding and, where possible, finding common cause,” he said, “here we must be very cautious.” Steinberg added that Hillel has a clear policy against sponsoring events with groups that support the movement to boycott, divest from, and implement sanctions against Israel, (which the Harvard PSC advocates for on its website). “We cannot foster the appearance of cooperation with that agenda,” he said.

Sandalow-Ash said of Hillel, “They’re questioning our loyalty to the Jewish community. A really important way to show you care about these communities is to criticize them.”

bVIEW
Brandeis University

“At the end of the day, a better conversation allows more innovative ideas.”

Three former Israeli military members at Brandeis, dismayed that discussions on campus between different pro-Israel factions often turned into shouting matches, created Brandeis Visions for Israel in an Evolving World. They hope to further a diverse, depolarized conversation through skits, focus groups and forums — where students can speak their minds but are also forced to confront opposing viewpoints.

“Israel-related activity on campus is hardly lacking,” said Chen Arad, one of bVIEW’s founders. “Conversation can sometimes be perceived as a lack of action, but at the end of the day, a better conversation allows more innovative ideas.”


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