New views on conversation
New group on campus presents ideas on how to discuss Israel
Published: Monday, October 8, 2012
Updated: Monday, October 8, 2012 13:10
Last Thursday, over 125 students filled the Mandel Center for the Humanities atrium; some gathered in Mandel; some gathered at the back of the room and others sat on the floor. Five coordinators of Brandeis Visions for Israel in an Evolving World stood on the stage and were ready to deliver their speeches.
The event started off with words from Chen Arad ’15, master of ceremonies for the night and cofounder of bVIEW. He explained the various events that the club will hold throughout the fall semester, and announced a conference that will take place in the spring.
This event took place to “facilitate conversations first about how we discuss Israel on campus, and to allow us to ultimately better discuss real events and issues that we, as people who care about that piece of land and those who live in it, care for,” according to Arad. He, Natan Odenheimer ’15, Sarah Geller ’13, Erica Shaps ’13, and Gil Zamir ’15 are the five co-founders. They came up with the idea to transform the way students discuss Israel on campus.
Their passion to revolutionize discourse on Israel on campus quickly became more than an idea for the future. This past summer, the team members worked on the project from distant parts of the world by video chatting with each other at two in the morning to accommodate for the time difference.
The bVIEW members’ passion for pursuing change and liberation in ideas culminated in this first event of the semester, which featured an Israeli-Palenstinian guest speaker, Ashraf Hussein ’13, who, when he arrived at Brandeis back in 2009, “felt the massive hostility and anger between students from different political clubs, namely [Brandeis Zionist Alliance] and [Brandeis Students for Justice in Palestine].”
He expressed his distress about the conflict, saying, “Students were taking sides, [and were] too extreme, which hindered every possibility of dialogue or even eye contact. The situation got even worse; students stopped to talking to each other because of their political views. This drove me crazy … I did not like it. I was upset, angry and I was lost in a state of confusion.”
Odenheimer was also distressed about the absence of communication when he first came to campus last year.
Odenheimer left an event about Israel, feeling upset and sad. “I thought that the tactics suggested were unpragmatic, polarizing, unproductive,” he said. He realized that the discussion tactics were flawed and lacked acceptance of other views. So he set out to change this. “We are not worshipers of ‘sight and sound,’ we do not ‘fan’ Israel or neither do we cheer ‘anti-Israelism.’ No, we are college students, we are philosophers, we are not easily brainwashed by mere rhetoric and we are seekers of truth. We want to understand better, but also to understand how to better. How to better the future. We are looking forward.”
With such a vision in mind, bVIEW began. The group focuses on open conversation that will allow students to freely talk about Israel on campus. As Arad believes that “discussion innately carries better action, better energies, unity, better ideas,” bVIEW seeks an idea, a conversation and a discussion about Israel in the future. More importantly, bVIEW is organized and led by students.
Other students also seem positive about the vision of bVIEW. Josh Berman ’15 has been assisting and organizing the bVIEW events in collaboration with the team members. He is the copresident of J Street U—Brandeis, the student branch of the larger J Street organization, which is a group of “campus chapters advocating and educating on colleges and universities ... for vigorous and sustained American leadership in facilitating a negotiated, two-state resolution to the Israeli-Palesinian conflict,” according to its website.
“In terms of the larger community, I think that everyone is hungry for dialogue, you hear it lamented in every single corner: whether it’s a conservative group or liberal group,” said Berman. He strongly believes that bVIEW has the ability to achieve their goal at Brandeis. He said, “there’s a lot of echo chamber going on and bVIEW, because it’s so new, doesn’t have any stigmas attached to it, so it can really unite everyone under one event.”
Not only students are supportive of bVIEW. The school administration and different departments have also joined in.
In a video created by bVIEW and shown during the event, University President Frederick Lawrence said, “One of the most important ways we can contribute to the urgent issues facing Israel is that Brandeis can be a place where people of all views come together and discuss these questions in a serious, reflective, rigorous, analytic way with respect for differences. This is in fact what shows the greatest respect and indeed the greatest love for the state of Israel which has been a core piece of Brandeis since our very founding.”
According to Arad, the bVIEW members have been working with the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies and the Crown Center for Middle East Studies and using their expertise.
The students involved in bVIEW have a clear goal and vision and are eager for change. In addition to the events hosted by bVIEW, the team is planning a publication about bVIEW in the near future and making this event annual. “We’re going to have amazing speakers who are leaders in their field, but you won’t only be listening to them—they will also be listening to you,” said Arad.