There was a clear divide in the room — kefiyas and kippas, Muslims and Jews, secular and religious. It was Ali Abunimah, an outspoken supporter of the “one-state solution,” who had made this gathering possible. Recently Abunimah spoke at the University of Pennsylvania where his presence seemed to join together the emotions of the entire pro-Israel community. Students on Penn’s campus responded with protests and other forms of activism to counter this speaker and the ideas he brought with him. But here at Brandeis University the event went mostly unnoticed.
During the Abunimah event I sat in the auditorium confidently; confident because I found flaws in this speaker’s argument. I felt a sense of pride because I thought that I had been able to expose, at least to myself, the reasons why the so-called “one-state solution,” was a horrible idea for both Israelis and Palestinians alike. His idea would end both Palestinian and Israeli rights to self-determination. More astounding, when I asked him what his thoughts were on the credible fear of violence that could break out between Jews and Palestinians once this secular state was established, he answered that we must essentially take a leap of faith. There are serious flaws with the status quo of today’s two-state solution, but when governments break down in which there exists large sectarian differences, chaos is bound to ensue.
A night after the Abunimah event I attended a gathering that was organized by three former IDF soldiers who had come to Brandeis University as students. This event had a similar feel to the Abunimah in that a divide along pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian lines in the room was obvious. These soldiers took it upon themselves to organize this event, and when it began it was obvious to all that they spoke with honesty, without rhetoric or strategy. They spoke knowing that there were 60 other students in front of them, judging and scrutinizing them for every thought that flowed from their mind.
One soldier spoke of serving in an elite combat unit where he sometimes had strong doubts about whether he agreed with everything he was being asked to do. There were days when he questioned his purpose in the army and when he truly believed something unjust was being done. The second soldier served as a spokesman for the IDF and was essentially responsible for communicating and defending Israel’s actions to foreign journalists. He also spoke of his frequent internal disagreements with having to explain and justify an action that you may utterly disagree with.
It was a beautiful moment because for at least one night there was no convincing being done. The audience was a witness to the speakers grappling with issues they themselves had not yet been able to reconcile. This was the power of the human soul that no amount of hasbara, or public affairs, could harness.
Ryan Yuffe, 18, was born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y. He is a freshman studying at Brandeis University.