Student Post: Middle East Cooperation Weekend at Vanderbilt: Kindling a Fire in a Sea of Apathy

Vanderbilt-Hillel-1.jpg

Vanderbilt University Hillel hosted a Middle East Cooperation Weekend February 15-17, featuring an Avi Schaefer Shabbat, Middle East Music and Munchies evening, and a dialogue between David Makovsky and Ghaith al-Omari. The weekend was made possible through a partnership between the pro-Israel community on campus as well as the Middle East Student Association, and the Muslim Student Association. Jeremy Bloomstone, a Vanderbilt junior and Israel Uncovered participant, shares his reflections on the weekend. There are few accomplishments I can point to in my time at Vanderbilt that had a significant impact on the pro-Israel, Jewish and broader campus communities. Yet after the past three weeks in promoting, executing, and reflecting on Vanderbilt’s Middle East Cooperation Weekend, I have realized that the future of cross-cultural, interfaith, and political dialogue on our campus as it relates to Israel is something that must be tended and protected amidst the waves of apathy that swallow much debate on campus. Our programming will never engage everyone on campus in discussion about Israel, nor should it, but providing forums for constructive and critical dialogue allows students to engage with one another about Israel. This dialogue is the foundation that shelters our mutual interest in discussion about Israel, Palestine and peace.

There are very few pro-Israel student advocates who can comfortably and confidently say that their strongest partners on campus are the Muslim, Pro-Palestinian students. It is this partnership that has afforded me the opportunity to engage in unique and open discussion and experiences with Muslim student leaders Mohammed Al-Hendy and Kareem Elsamadicy, which will forever change my own views on what it means to be an advocate for Israel on campus.

I greatly admire, appreciate and value the views that were shared by David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and Ghaith al-Omari of the American Task Force on Palestine. However, it is the conversations that were prompted by these speakers that will continue to resonate on campus. About seven leaders from both communities went to dinner after the weekend was over, and the conversations that stemmed from the weekend in this intimate setting will affect all of our beliefs about the Middle East and each other well into the future. I cannot express how comforting it is to know that I have the relationships, infrastructure, and partnerships to continue to engage in meaningful and constructive dialogue on campus, and that experiences like the ones I have had this semester are not isolated instances of change, but a continuing building and learning process for me, for us, and for campus.