Chatter in a variety of languages filled the air at the Young Ambassador Workshop organized by the Israeli Consulate for the Mid-Atlantic Region this weekend.
Shaanan Street, an Israeli recording artist of the hip-hop-funk band Hadag Nahash, gave an interview at the workshop Friday, sometime about 10 p.m., as Dan Lammendola, a first-year master student in Arabic translation at Kent State University, walked up and thanked Street for his talk earlier.
They started speaking in Hebrew, but later switched to Arabic.
Street, who performs in Hebrew, and who is critical of the current Israeli government for what he called “human rights violations” and a deteriorating democratic situation, takes Arabic classes twice a week. His children go to a bilingual school in Israel.
Street was one of the speakers at a two-day workshop, which was presented in cooperation with the organization “Buckeyes for Israel,” Friday and Saturday at the Hillel Wexner Jewish Student Center.
“I don’t think there (are) two types of human rights, there is only one human rights,” Street said in an interview in The Lantern, adding: “The majority of Palestinians have nothing to do with terror.”
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is largely over land and religions and has been fought over for generations. Israel, Gaza and the West Bank were once called Palestine, but after a war in 1948, Palestine was divided and Jewish Israelis claimed some land for religious reasons.
The two-day workshop, packed with speakers and group discussions, brought together Jewish students and pro-Israel activists from Columbus, Cincinnati, Cleveland and Kent.
“You are ambassadors for the Ohio-Israel relationship, and, as a result for that, of the USA-Israel relationship,” Elad Strohmayer, deputy consul general of Israel to the Mid-Atlantic Region, said in a Q&A session with the students. But he added: “Being a pro-Israel activist on campus these days — it’s not easy.”
Ohio State has a Jewish community of about 2,500 to 3,000, said Felicia Lilien, OSU director of Jewish Student Life. About 1,000 to 1,500 of them come to the Hillel center at least once a year. Approximately 40 students attended the conference.
“I came because I’m just always looking for ways to learn how to be a better advocate for Israel,” said Naomi Benatar, a first-year in Hebrew and pre-med at OSU. “It’s a really fragile situation to talk to people who don’t support Israel.”
But Cruz Bonlarron Martinez, publicity director at the OSU Committee for Justice in Palestine, sees things differently.
“We think that the Israeli occupation is unjust and has resulted in many Palestinians being pushed off their land and not being able to return home,” he said.
In an interview with The Lantern, Strohmayer, of the Mid-Atlantic region, said, “Historically, the settlements (in the West Bank) are ours,” but added that Israel would be willing to make concessions.
“Some people disagree with the settlements, and it’s fine,” Strohmayer said. “But taking it from there to saying ‘Israel doesn’t have the right to exist’ or ‘just because of the settlement there is no peace’ is just wrong.”
The CJP recently launched the “OSU Divest” campaign, which aims at pushing the university to “divest from companies that are complicit in the occupation,” Bonlarron Martinez said.
“I’d put human rights before the wellbeing of corporations,” he added.
Dylan Morpurgo, a campus coordinator for The David Project, a Boston-based Israel-advocacy organization working with students, told students attending the workshop that the project encourages its ambassadors to forge personal relationships.
“We don’t focus our efforts on those who are the detractors of Israel, we focus our efforts on those who otherwise might not have an opinion on Israel or people who can be engaged when it comes to Israel,” Morpurgo said.
In general, students at the workshop said they believe relations between Israelis and Palestinians are not bad on campus.
“I think that there is a united community on both sides and that’s wonderful,” Robyn Frum, a third-year in microbiology at OSU who helped organize the event, said.
“It’s not a hostile relationship at all. The leaders of Buckeyes for Israel have met with the leaders of Students for Justice in Palestine,” Frum said.
Though Bonlarron Martinez said, “As a group, we try not to participate in joint events with pro-Israel groups that do not acknowledge the occupation and the right of return for Palestinian refugees.
“The differentiation of power has to be acknowledged, and I don’t really see the pro-Israel groups on campus acknowledging the differentiation,” he added.
He said there were contacts between individual members, “but as an organization we try not to do that.”
In an interview with The Lantern, Street said, “If Israel decided to live in the Middle East, it has to be a part of the Middle East. We can’t go and on suspecting Arabs for centuries and centuries.”
“I’m Israeli, so I come to my government for solutions,” he said, “I’m not Palestinian… Everybody has to work. It’s in everybody’s best interest.”