Over the next three days, Aryeh: Columbia Students Association for Israel will be hosting or cosponsoring three diverse and influential speakers on Israel as part of our “Israel Across the Political Spectrum” speaker series: retired Israeli Supreme Court Justice Salim Joubran on Monday, Israeli Minister for Diaspora Affairs and Minister of Education Naftali Bennett on Tuesday, and President Barack Obama’s Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro on Wednesday.
We expect that some on campus will oppose Bennett’s visit altogether. He has made objectionable and callous statements about Arabs and his ministry has excluded an Israeli-Palestinian love story from Israeli high school curricula. Aryeh condemns such prejudiced language and firmly believes Israel would be better off without such rhetoric. Bennett also argues against a two-state solution and has actively taken steps to undermine its viability. Instead, he calls for a semi-autonomous Palestinian entity whose borders would be controlled by Israel.
As a Zionist, I support and defend the right of Jews to self-determination in our national homeland. I also believe Palestinians have the same right to self-determination as Jews. For this reason, Aryeh also supports a two-state solution agreed to by both Israelis and Palestinians. Bennett’s unilateral solution ignores the national aspirations of Palestinians, recognition of which Aryeh views as essential to lasting peace in the region. Additionally, his problematic rhetoric undermines the coexistence needed for peace between Israelis and Palestinians on a personal level. Aryeh has long recognized that this coexistence is crucial and supports the efforts of the Givat Haviva Center for a Shared Society, an NGO that promotes coexistence among Jewish and Arab Israelis.
Bennett’s plan threatens Israel’s security. Many policy experts have concluded that only a negotiated two-state solution with Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation can keep Israeli civilians safe from terror in the long term. Understanding that some iterations of the two-state solution may endanger Israel, Israeli experts have devised policy initiative proposals such as the Commanders for Israel’s Security’s Two-State Security project, which aims to protect Israeli civilians and promote Palestinian sovereignty and stability. Most Israelis support a two-state solution that would provide for their country’s security.
However, If Aryeh condemns Bennett’s rhetoric and is opposed to his policies, why are we cosponsoring his visit to campus?
Unfortunately, Bennett’s views are not fringe. He chairs the Jewish Home political party—which represents just seven percent of votes in the last election—and serves in the coalition government as Minister for Diaspora Affairs and Minister of Education. Anyone intent on having an informed opinion on Israel must grapple with his stances. We encourage Bennett’s opponents to attend his talk and question him about his offensive remarks and activism against the two-state solution—just as Aryeh will, in pursuit of its mission to promote nuanced, honest, and informed discourse about Israel.
Aryeh’s membership is politically diverse, but is united in its desire to discuss the issues that Israelis deal with everyday. Hearing from leaders and stakeholders in that debate is essential to our mission—especially those with whom we disagree. By providing this opportunity for community members to challenge their stances, we strengthen our own, and simultaneously demonstrate to the Columbia community the diversity of opinion on Israel. By cosponsoring speakers with whom we disagree, we reaffirm our principles and, through our engagement, demonstrate to the larger community the value of doing exactly that. As such, Aryeh will continue to cosponsor or host a range of speakers, so long as their views are taken seriously by, and represent part of, the Israeli public.
Aryeh recently hosted the center-left party chairwoman Tzipi Livni, Jerusalem’s right-wing mayor Nir Barkat, and now Justice Joubran from the left and Bennett on the far right. From outside the government, we have hosted Lucy Aharish, the first Arab primetime news anchor on Hebrew-language Israeli television and a civil rights advocate, and Noa Sattath from the Israel Religious Action Center, an NGO which advocates "on behalf of a broadly inclusive Israeli democracy.” Similarly, we have heard from U.S. government officials who worked on Middle East affairs and Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in both Democratic and Republican administrations. This track record demonstrates our ongoing commitment to inviting, and engaging with, diverse views on Israel.
While less controversial than Bennett, both Justice Joubran and Ambassador Shapiro have also taken positions with which some individual Aryeh members disagree. Joubran ignited a debate over Israeli identity when he refused to sing Israel’s national anthem Hatikvah at a justice’s swearing-in ceremony to the Supreme Court. Ambassador Shapiro supported the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran that most of the Israeli public—and many American Jewish organizations—opposed. We look forward to each of them expounding on those views and encourage students to challenge any views with which they disagree.
Aryeh will continue to welcome figures from across the political spectrum whose views are taken seriously by, and represent part of, the Israeli public. Through nuanced, honest, and informed discourse about Israel, we guarantee our fellow Columbia students opportunities to challenge ideas with which they disagree—even vehemently so. Aryeh looks forward to seeing you for three days of vigorous debate.
The author is a Columbia College junior majoring in philosophy and computer science and is the president of Aryeh: Columbia Students Association for Israel.
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