Israelis Speak to Students

On Wednesday the twenty-first of September, UVM Hillel held a public forum about modern day Israel. Specifically for the function, Hillel invited three Israeli guests. The three young, unmarried and professional class guests, Mr. Shabi Michaeli, Ms. Michal Goral, and Ms. Yael Mevorach, were representative of a variation of Israeli political and cultural views and backgrounds. Therefore, their aim in traveling to America is not to promote an agenda, but to foster the gaining of knowledge about the complexity of the Israeli situation and to open up discourse with Americans and the Jewish Diaspora here in the US. Hillel President Byron Murray commenced the forum with brief introductions of the esteemed guests. All three Israelis were from, and work within, university environments. Shabi Michaeli is the Chairman and manager of the Israeli Youth Forum and the director of the Euro-Med program. The Euro-Med program is an organization that brings Israeli youth together with youth from EU nations, northern Africa, Jordan, and “sometimes” Lebanon. Michal Goral is the director of Academic Affairs at Tel Aviv University. Lastly, Yael Mevorach is the head of International Relations Division at Ben Gurion University. The guests then briefly spoke of the purpose of their trip to America and their goals. As Mr. Michaeli said, they “came to talk of society and political structure” of both Israel and the United States so as “to become closer with the country who supports Israel so much.” Another key note that all three were in accord with was that one must not pick a side of the Palestinian-Israeli situation because of an affiliation with a political or social ideal. Rather, as Mr. Michaeli said you, “must know the facts,” before having an opinion. “Don’t take a stand just because it is popular.” The Israeli panel then engaged the crowd asking for questions, concerns, and reflections upon any topic involving Israel. As well, the panel expressed much interest in learning about America and wanted to compare and contrast the situations of the two countries by listening to the guests. The subject of politics instantly arose. Ms. Goral and Mr. Michaeli agreed that a major problem for Israeli politics was the relative instability of the government due to annual elections and the large number of political parties. Mr. Michaeli stated, “With twenty-seven parties it is very hard to build stable coalitions.” Ms. Goral concurred, stating, “Having so many parties is problematic.” On the contrary, Ms. Mevorach expressed approval of the multi-party system, saying that it forces the elected leaders to collaborate in making decisions rather than working in a strictly partisan manner, “like the United States.” Further contrast to the United States was exposed when Mr. Murray posed a question relating to the prospects for energy self-sustainability within Israel. The panel members’ responses led into discussion about priorities and politics. The Israelis made it clear that “We are constantly at war and engaged with enemies,” referring to the Palestinians and the uneasy relations with neighboring Arab nations. Therefore, defense takes priority to “leftist issues such as environmental awareness and women’s issues.” Mr. Michaeli told a story of how he threw away a recyclable while staying at a friend’s apartment in New York and the resulting concern she voiced against his action. Stating, “In Israel there is not yet this focus on the environment.” The panelists then agreed that environmental awareness will grow when the region becomes more peaceful and, resultantly, more economically stable. This led to a discussion of the Israeli economy, changes throughout history and the political-economic relationship. The panel agreed that Israel is “a young nation” and has potential to grow under the capitalist system. This provoked a crowd member to ask where the Israeli pride in being a socialist democracy had gone. The panel then admitted that the influence of America and capitalism under the “five very rich (Israeli) families” is great and has gradually changed the direction of Israel. Ms. Mevorach stated that, “There is a lack of left economic thinking and direction.” The last topic that was discussed was the paradox of the nation being both Jewish and Democratic. Specifically, the changing demographic within Israeli society, notably the fact that out of six million Israelis, one million are Arab. This sixth of the population is reproducing at such a rate that “in twenty-five years there will be more Arabs than Jews” in Israel. This is highly problematic to maintaining a Jewish identity in what is supposed to be a Jewish state. However, the consensus amongst the three panelists, whose political identities varied across the spectrum, was that “the Jewish people have a right to a state” and that the increasing Arab population encroaches upon that goal.