October 27, 2019

GUEST ROOM | Beyond BDS: Engaging in Dialogue on Israel and Palestine

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Cornell is a tough place. Each semester often feels increasingly more trying. Last semester was particularly difficult because of three little letters: BDS, which stand for the movement to Boycott, Divest and Sanction Israel, a country to which many Cornellians, including myself, feel deeply connected.

For those new to campus, the “divestment” campaign that was brought to the Student Assembly claimed to start conversations about the century-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a worthwhile goal that I share. Instead, after many twists and turns last semester, including President Martha Pollack’s principled rejection of BDS and the paralysis of student government for most of the semester, BDS caused a deep rift in the campus culture and was defeated. But even though it failed, the BDS campaign led to acrimony on campus and hurt efforts to build understanding or respectful dialogue, values which exemplify our Cornell community.

Our Cornell community can do better, and Hillel is proud to be playing a leading role in the next chapter of this story. Throughout the BDS campaign, I served as president of Cornell Hillel, and as a supporter of peace between Israel and Palestine, I advocated strongly for increased dialogue and the opportunity for Cornell students to learn and think critically about the Middle East. To move the conversation forward, Cornell Hillel created the Conflict Conversation Series, which brings speakers, panels and presentations to campus to provide a wide range of perspectives and information on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict over the course of the semester.

Our first event, From Zero-Sum to Peace, was jointly headlined by an Israeli and a Palestinian. Ori Nir is a spokesperson for Americans for Peace Now, and Nizar Farsakh is chair of the Board of Washington’s Museum of the Palestinian People and a former advisor to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. These men were able to have and share with our campus community meaningful conversations about their own personal narratives and experiences in a way that none of us were able to have when BDS was debated at Cornell.

On Oct. 30 at 6:30 p.m. in Statler Auditorium, Hillel has an exciting addition to the Conflict Conversation Series: a conversation between Israeli public intellectuals Yossi Klein Halevi and Mohammad Darawshe, a Palestinian citizen of the State of Israel. Their talk will focus on Halevi’s recent book “Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor,” which tells his life story as a Zionist committed to peace, and Darawashe’s response to Halevi.

I encourage all students to attend, regardless of religious or political affiliations. It is my belief that hearing different perspectives about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from Israelis and Palestinians who live in the region will educate our campus community. This conversation has the potential to chart a new way forward in our ability to have informed dialogue about one of the most intractable geopolitical conflicts of our time.

I hope to see you there.

Jillian Shapiro is a senior in the College of Arts & Sciences. Comments may be sent to [email protected]