Do You Choose Peace?

This is a republication of an original article written by Jake Barnette, a junior at the George Washington University, in the Times of Israel blogs on Wednesday, November 23, 2016.

student holding a whiteboard sign

The author, Jake Barnette, chooses peace when he discusses bipartisanship

On Tuesday, November 8th, the United States witnessed an unprecedented election. After extreme divisiveness and negativity, the GW community battled over the outcomes of this election—communities broke apart, friendships ended, silence created awkward voids in classrooms.

On Tuesday, November 15th, two hundred GW students chose peace. Following a week of disconnect, these students recognized the opportunity to come together and support moving forward under the context of a conversation.

What is a choice? A choice is “the opportunity or power to make a decision.” Sometimes our choices are opaque; the decision is not a black and white. With social influences and political divides, we forget we have the power to make a choice on our own merit. All these influences can cloud what decision we make, but take away the clouds in front of the larger picture, we have the ability to make our choice.

In an effort to emphasize the importance of dialogue, a group of activists, myself included, started the Choose Peace initiative at GW and we hosted our first event in the center of campus on the national Day of Coexistence.

Created by the Israel on Campus Coalition in 2015, the Day of Coexistence focuses on the inclusiveness of all communities and offers the choice of how to make a change. It is an annual opportunity for students across the country to unite in support of peace and dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians.

With a table of Georgetown Cupcakes decorated with peace signs, stickers and shirts with a Choose Peace dialogue bubble, and white boards for students to write how they choose peace, we engaged with students of all backgrounds—white, black, Asian, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Latino. We heard things like “I love peace!”, “How could you not choose peace?”, “Why hasn’t an event like this happened before?”

The Day of Coexistence is important. In a polarized world, we are quick to judge a situation on our own merit, with our own perspective. However, nothing is ever this black and white. In order for these two peoples, the Israelis and Palestinians, to move closer toward peace, dialogue is needed. Just like on my university’s campus, we need to focus on building bridges with words to find common ground.

This day honors that conversation. It honors the idea of respecting the otherness of the other.

Choosing peace should be something that comes firsthand; however, it’s a little more complex. Dialogue is not something that comes naturally. Too often people refuse to enter a conversation because they are adamant that their opinion is the only opinion that matters—their opinion is fact. Some live in the future, some stay in the past, but unless we leave our self-created facts and heavy baggage, it impedes moving forward today.

Change cannot occur in the world if we don’t choose dialogue. Change can’t happen if we don’t choose to go down a path towards peace.

While a majority of students walked past our table, ignoring it like any other promotion, I was most impressed with those who made the conscious choice to join us. I realized a way to peace starts here. In this moment. On my campus. If our Choose Peace initiative can join together people of all backgrounds who cherish conversation and respect, every single one of us can promote that message more. One by one we will gradually build a net of acceptance and respect that will further peace dialogues, and maybe one day, this net will span the world.

Having a choice is a luxury and you hold the power to make the best decision. Choose peace. Choose respect. Choose dialogue. Nothing gets accomplished when we sit in silence.

I urge you to make the right choice.

Choose Peace was possible through the generous grants and support of Hillel International, StandWithUs, Israel on Campus Coalition, Hasbara Fellowships, the ZOA, and the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington. Thank you for supporting our initiative to promote dialogue.

About the Author

Jake Barnette is a junior at The George Washington University in Washington, DC, studying Political Science and Psychology. A Maryland native, Jake takes his East Coast upbringing around the world, and right down the street to the steps of the US Capitol, where he advocates for a strong U.S.-Israel relationship. On campus, Jake serves as the Executive Director of College Republicans, and as the president of GW for Israel, a bipartisan student organization that works to strengthen the U.S.-Israel relationship. When he takes a break from politics, Jake enjoys the latest James Patterson book, going to the beach, playing catch with his dogs, and a strong cup of coffee (or five).

Jake traveled on the AIPAC Milstein Family Foundation Campus Allies Mission to Israel with 39 other student activists from across the United States. Participants on this trip are not Birthright-eligible. While in Israel, they experience the biblical land, gain a deeper understanding of strategic and social issues facing Israel today, and examine the challenges and opportunities associated with being a supporter of the U.S.-Israel alliance.