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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Amidst turmoil in Israel, students react

Published: September 6, 2012
Section: News

There are few issues more contentious to the Brandeis community than that of Israel and it’s future. The university is 55 percent Jewish and consistently ranked as one of the most politically active four-year institutions in the country, making conditions perfect for a strong debate on the subject. For those wishing to take action and get involved in the discussion, there are multiple organizations on campus that provide opportunities to express a vast array of opinions.

Studies show that a large majority of American Jews support a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine, which would redefine borders and give both the Jewish as well as the Arab populations sovereignty in the area. Two organizations on campus outspokenly support a two-state solution to promote peace in the area, but both approach the subject differently.

Viktoria Bedo ’13 is president of JStreet U, the university branch of a national lobbying group that pushes the United States to put pressure on Israel for a two-state solution.

“The way things are now, it’s not working,” Bedo said, adding that many ideas of such a solution are “utopian”, but “it would be better than it is currently.” JStreet puts effort towards lobbying government officials, adding that “the United States has a huge say on what happens in international politics,” and that helping to spread American values, such as a fair democracy, is of the utmost importance. “We support Israel, but we also question the US and Israeli governments, and seek to put pressure on both for peace in the area.”

According to Bedo, there are multiple approaches to the efforts. In addition to putting pressure on elected officials, “JStreet wants to educate students, not just on what a two-state solution is, but also on the area and the history.” Two events this fall will help to achieve this—on Sept. 13, JStreet is bringing One Voice to the SCC multipurpose room, during which an Israeli woman and a Palestinian man will discuss the conflict. Another event in October will team with BIPAC to reevaluate Zionism today.

Another organization on campus with similar goals but a different approach is the Brandeis Israel Public Affairs Committee (BIPAC). “There are many ways for students to get involved with BIPAC on campus,” said Alex Thomson, BIPAC’s co-president. “Our goal is to be politically active and advocate for a strong US-Israel relationship.” According to Thomson, “BIPAC’s ultimate goal is to influence policy regarding Israel and to ensure that our elected officials support a pro-Israel agenda.” By working with student leaders on campus and engaging politicians, the organization seeks to influence policy regarding Israel. BIPAC is also involved in national conferences and meetings, including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) national summit in Boston as well as a trip to Washington DC to meet with multiple members of Congress.

Like JStreet, BIPAC seeks to help procure a two-state solution in Israel. While the former does so by pressuring Israel and the US in order to achieve its goals, the latter mainly wishes to ensure Israel’s safety by supporting pro-Israel candidates and preventing a nuclear capable Iran. When looking across campus at the grand spectrum of sentiments towards Israel, these differences are only minor. Luky Guigui is an Orthodox Jew who spent two years living in Israel. “A two-state solution would only make things worse in the area,” Guigui said. “It would make Israel more likely to use their army … when the US deals with a terrorist, we use police force, while Israel uses the army.”

According to Guigui, “living in Israel helped show how alike the people are—they have similar character traits. Dividing Jerusalem would require establishing borders in people’s backyards … there is enough room for the people to live happily as it is … it’s not fair to ask Jews to relocate.” Indeed, Bedo agrees that defining borders would be a difficult feat. “We have no exact idea on how the borders would work,” Bedo said.

The sense that the US has a large say in what happens in Israel extends all the way to the Brandeis campus. While many organizations do not endorse candidates, “Both presidential candidates and the vast majority of those in Congress or running for Congress are very pro-Israel. In this sense, BIPAC is a bipartisan organizations and does not endorse candidates,” Thomson said. “We have a very diverse array of student activists who are free to support whichever pro-Israel candidate of their choosing.”

Hillel president Allie Saran points out that “We encourage students to be actively engaged in civic affairs, as written in our constitution. Hillel strives to help connect students to the State of Israel, and welcomes an exploration of what that connection means through dialogue and inquiry.” While Viktoria Bedo points out that most Jews do not vote solely on Israel, but rather on the economy and social issues, the topic is certainly one that resonates among Jewish people. “We have an upcoming campaign around the elections … what JStreet would love to see is a bold and vigorous American leadership pushing towards a two-state solution!”

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that BIPAC was a branch of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). BIPAC is an independent, unaffiliated organization.