New org offers new approach to conflict

By Sarah Dillard

Turmoil in the Middle East has captured the attention of many Mac students and led to the creation of new groups and programs on campus. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict in particular has become the center of a campus-wide conversation about politics in the Middle East. The newest organization on campus to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, J Street U, was created this semester in response to what co-creators Noah Westreich ’14 and Hannah Fishman ’13 saw as a one-sided conversation on campus. Fishman spent the past summer interning in Washington D.C. for J Street, a political lobby group that advocates a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She landed the position with little knowledge about the group, but by the end of the summer, she was convinced that J Street U would be an asset to campus. “I left feeling like I had a voice in the issues, that I could finally place myself within a larger community that I had never felt a part of,” Fishman explained. ” J Street defines itself as being “pro-Israel and pro-peace.” Westreich said he was taken aback by the views most prominently presented on campus when he arrived on campus freshman year. “Growing up, I was really comfortable with being Jewish, American, and Zionist,” Westreich said. “On campus I was forced to question these identities. I was really concerned I wasn’t getting the whole story.” The fact that Mac SUPER (Students United for Palestinian Equal Rights) was the only organization on campus at the time that addressed the conflict was a shock for Westreich. “It was a trigger for me that this was the loudest voice,” Westreich said. “It was the only voice.” While Westreich is quick to point out that he admires the work that SUPER does, he said he hopes that J Street U will help other students questioning their own views of the conflict. Jacob Kraus ’15 sees J Street U as a unique opportunity to both question and voice support for Israel on campus. “It’s a fine line to bridge between our extreme social consciousness and a love for Israel,” Kraus said. “It’s the only space I’ve seen on campus where you can voice your passion and at the same time criticize what Israel does in the name of making it the best place it can be.” This year, J Street U hopes to educate the Mac community and become part of the nation-wide network of the organization both on college campuses and throughout the US. “It’s a powerful mechanism. People want to hear from young people,” Westreich said. Fishman said she saw the impact that groups like J Street U can have in government while in Washington. “J Street U is unique in that it is building a student movement and network that can have a significant impact on our country’s policies relating to this conflict,” Fishman said. “Our government has become deeply invested in the question of what our generation thinks about Israel and the conflict.” For its first event, Mac’s J Street U hosted a discussion about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict featuring Uri Zaki, director of B’Tselem USA (an Israeli human rights organization) and Daniel May, director of J Street U on Oct. 18, 2011. Zaki discussed human rights abuses in the West Bank and Gaza and applauded J Street U’s emphasis on exploring and (when necessary) criticizing Israel’s role in the conflict. “Supportive criticism is the hardest position you could take, but it’s the only one you should take,” Zaki said. While Westreich was pleased with the first event, he hopes that more students become involved in the future. “Everyone was previously involved on campus,” said Westreich. “I would have loved to have seen more curious people.” Mac’s J Street U hopes to attract students even if the students don’t feel directly involved in the conflict. Westreich believes that the conflict affects every American regardless of how they identify. “It’s a very American issue,” Westreich said. “We’re so entrenched in the conflict [because] we’re Israel’s number one ally economically, militarily, and culturally.”