Reaching out to the "Other": We CAN Coexist!
This post was written by student Kevin Lefkowitz. He is a freshman at the University of Texas at Austin, where he is active in pro-Israel advocacy. Before college, he spent a gap year in Israel as part of Young Judaea’s Year Course and, along with six others, created changethebrand.com. Change the Brand is a pro-Israel social networking website designed to unite the online pro-Israel community, regardless of political affiliation. I recently wrote an article (partially pictured at left) in the Daily Texan , the school newspaper, asking for cooperation between pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian students. I wrote this article in response to another article that equated Zionism with racism and called for non-Muslims to help the Palestinians. I have attended two events sponsored by the Palestinian Solidarity Committee. Neither event focused on the lives of the Palestinians, but rather used its time to falsely accuse Israel of horrible things. Luckily, the author of the original article, Syed, contacted me and that led to a discussion about the Israeli and Palestinian narratives.
Syed is a religious Muslim, and grew up learning about the Palestinians. When he enrolled at the University of Texas, he began researching the conflict. In his research, he discovered that the “evil” Israelis have a narrative of their own and sought out people with whom he could have productive conversations. When he read my article, he sent me a Facebook message saying that the article had a “very hopeful” tone, but was surprised that pro-Israel people could be reasonable.
The article I responded to was so anti-Israel that I was truly shocked that he reached out to me. We met at a coffee shop and spoke for three hours. We each presented both narratives and progressed into a discussion pertaining to the current state of affairs. After the discussion, we agreed to start a group on campus. This may sound familiar because I previously wrote about a similar experience with another student at Austin. This group has potential because of the passion each of us has for the issue, and the resources we can tap into.
In our discussion, we spoke about the need for Palestinians to prosper alongside Israelis. We discussed several issues pertaining to the modern conflict, but also made sure that everything had historical context. Though we agreed not to refrain from speaking our minds, the conversation remained controlled and peaceful. I highly recommend for Israel advocates to engage in these types of discussions because they can help alleviate the tension that pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian activists have on campus.
Syed could not believe that he had a reasonable conversation with a pro-Israel advocate. He had grown up thinking everyone who supported Israel was complicit with the “oppressive regime” and he was happily surprised to see that Israel advocates could understand his narrative. He told me that he went back to his organization and will encourage some of his friends to seek out representatives from the pro-Israel camp on campus.
Syed and I will never agree on everything related to the Israeli-Palestinian component of the Arab-Israeli conflict, but that does not mean that we cannot have civil discussions and reach a middle ground. This discussion proved that people could work out their differences if given the chance. Attached are links to the articles we wrote in the Daily Texan. If we can get along, how many other people are out there to have these discussions?