Israel’s identity not confined to conflict

This is a republication of an original article written by Salomon Kalach in the Hoya on Tuesday, November 23, 2004 and in the Israel Campus Beat on Sunday, December 5, 2004.

In “Unity Takes Center Stage at Rangila,” (The Hoya, November 16, 2004, A3) Josh Zumbrun characterizes the Georgetown Israel Alliance as a bunch of screaming bigots who offer nothing positive to our community. I found his portrayal of the group not only quite insulting but also completely disconnected from the truth.

As a former GIA president, it is my duty to clarify the mission of the organization and point out the myriad of activities that we have planned over the past four years.

The Georgetown Israel Alliance has provided the campus community with amazing opportunities to learn about Israel, its culture, its achievements in science, the business entrepreneurship of its people, its dedication to the environment and, yes, even its politics.

We have engaged in lobbying Congress. We have had petition drives and have gone to residence halls to talk to students individually.

We have brought speakers to talk about the U.S.-Israel relationship, the EU-Israel relationship and important issues within Israel, such as the elections of 2003 and the situation of minorities within Israel.

We have held vigils to remember the victims of terror attacks like the bombing at Hebrew University.

We have held rallies when Holocaust deniers and bigots are brought to campus and when Georgetown professors say that “the Jews are getting ready to rule by proxy.”

We have brought people our age, fellow Israeli college students, to talk about what life is like for people like us in Israel. We have brought a photographer and tour guide to help others experience Israel’s landscapes and people in a deeper way. We have had drives to plant trees in a forest in Israel dedicated to Martin Luther King Jr.

We have engaged in dialogue with our fellow Muslim and Arab Hoyas. We have brought the King David Peace Drummers to play their music and foster an atmosphere of understanding while we sing and dance on Copley Lawn.

All this, Zumbrun has failed to acknowledge.

Maybe because it is easier to criticize based on perceptions than to try to educate one’s self by actually going to the events. Maybe because it is easier to radically simplify something complex and judge a whole group of people based on a misperception. Maybe because, simply, THE HOYA failed to cover many of these events.

This, however, does not surprise me. After all, that is one of the main challenges that GIA has faced: fighting misperceptions regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict, and enlightening the community by showing what Israel truly is and what it has to offer.

We know that the best way to make our case would be for people to go to Israel. That would be the best way of smashing stereotypes and fighting misperceptions and misinformation. We realize, however, that this is not possible, and therefore, we created an organization to bring Israel to campus, so all can appreciate all the complexities of Israeli society.

Israel, like other countries, is more than a particular conflict. It is a democracy where Jews, Muslims, Christians and Druze flourish, where women are respected, where homosexuals can serve freely in the army without a policy of “don’t ask don’t tell”, where people like Christopher Reeve found medical research that extended his hopes of fighting for a better life, where young people designed the Intel chips and the instant messenger programs that many of us use and where pluralism finds a small refuge in a region full of intolerance.

This, and much more, is what Israel is about, and this is what we at GIA have tried to show you for the past four years. There is always room for improvement, so if you want to know something we have not covered please let us know. After all, our mission is to bring Israel to Georgetown, to you.

About the Author

Salomon Kalach is a 2003 graduate of the College and served as president of the Georgetown Israel Alliance from 2001-02.