Blog: Reaction to Third Annual Israeli Peace Week
Headlines on Iran’s nuclear proliferation, rocket-firing terrorists from Gaza and upheaval in the streets of Syria are what greet us from the volatile Middle East these days.
But we forget that even within these violence-marred countries, there are people who want peace. Countries with civilians trying to live ordinary lives. Countries like the United States. Countries with democracy. Countries like the Jewish state of Israel.
Feb. 26 marked the start of the third annual Israel Peace Week, an initiative that educates the American people about aspects of Israel ignored by the media. The messages of the event this year: Israel wants peace. Israel has no partner for peace. And Israel is the only true democracy in the Middle East.
One program, called “Faces of Israel,” launched this year by the Israeli Minister of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs, Yuli Edelstein, aims to demonstrate the diversity of Israel and how it tolerates all religions and cultures. The program’s slogan - “Get me. Get Israel” – projects an image of Israel as a place of democracy and diversity. The representatives it brings to college campuses, typically consisting of four- or five-person delegations, consist of Israeli citizens from an array of races, religions and sexual orientations.
“I participate in “Faces of Israel” because I want others to know the truth about my home, since the media does not show this side,” Amir Shibli, an Israeli Arab said at his group’s Feb. 28 presentation at CUNY Brooklyn College. “Given the choice between living in Israel or an Arab state, I would still choose Israel. I am proud of Israel. I can’t find what’s there anywhere else.”
Others who participated at the Brooklyn College event were Kineret Belzer, a Jewish Kibbutznik from the Golan Heights; Vladimir Blayberg, a second-place Israeli Idol winner and half-Jewish Israeli immigrant from the Ukraine; Gal Menashe, a native Jewish Israeli lawyer from Tel Aviv; and David Zviel, a religious Jewish resident of Judea and Samaria and a member of the Israeli political party, Likud.
“This program is a way of going beyond social networks and virtual rhetoric. It’s going back to basics with people communicating face to face,” Belzer said.
Belzer said the event offered the opportunity for Israelis and Americans to communicate freely with each other, without “political proxy.” Zviel also emphasized that the delegation must always only convey “[its] own perspectives. No one else’s. That [leads] to the delegation’s true authenticity.”
“What’s unique about Faces of Israel is that it embraces diversity in the midst of adversity,” said Joel Udwin, a sophomore at Boston University, who hosted “Faces of Israel” at his campus on Feb. 29.
Udwin noted the adversity that Israel Apartheid Week, a week-long program established by anti-Israel students in 2005, continuously brings to campus. While Israel Apartheid Week consistently has the reputation of being loud, sometimes violent, and filled with accusations against the Israeli government and Israelis and Jews at large, Israel Peace Week has proven to always be relatively calm and peaceful, sending meaningful messages in moderate ways.
“We’re here to fill the huge gap left between media and reality. We are Israeli. We know the facts,” Menashe explained to the audience.
Even so, the diverse group of representatives did not agree on many answers to the audiences questions.
“It’s all about the dialogue,” Zviel laughed, after refraining from getting into a heated argument with his counterparts. “That’s the beauty of Israeli democracy. We all don’t always agree, but we can discuss.”
Israel’s population of 7.8 million people makes it the second most densely populated country for its land mass in the world. Out of its citizens, 73 percent are Jewish, 16 percent are Muslim and 2 percent are Christian. Israel also has a significant homosexual community. Israel was the first country in Asia to grant equal rights to gays.
The delegates have their own views on how to run the young country. But they said they all believe the way to a solution to their conflicting opinions is through democratic means, and not violence.
“It’s hard to discuss our disagreements when the other side, the Palestinian Authority refuses to come to the table,” Zviel says. “The conflict is rooted deeper than just in the land. It’s ideological.”
But that doesn’t mean the Israelis discriminate against any of the Palestinians, Arabs, or other minorities residing in the land.
“It doesn’t matter how a country declares itself. It just must guarantee the rights of everyone else [who lives there],” Shibli elaborates. “I get mad at those Israeli Arabs who support Hamas and Hezbollah, because they won’t address basic Palestinian rights. Prime Minister Netanyahu, however, does worry and address this.”
Michael Ziegler, a Brooklyn College junior who attended the event, said he thought the event was a success, because the floor was opened up immediately to questions from the audience.
“It was very interesting to hear about life in Israel from an Israeli-Arab [perspective],” said Tova Medetsky, a sophomore in Brooklyn College who also attended the event. “The media tends to portray [Israeli-Arabs] as being treated like second-class citizens, so it was very interesting to hear what life is really like for them.”
The delegation evoked messages of promise for the future. Israelis want peace, they said, a message they want college students here in the U.S. to understand. And that message of peace for Brooklyn College students, despite the diverse views, races, religions and stances, resounded loud and clear.