Israel on Campus: Creating Dialogue
A Conversation with Zach Gelman and Samuel Hayim Brody, p. 3

DF:    So how do you think the disengagement will affect the campus dialogues?

ZG:    It's going to be confusing...most people really lack context about what is happening, so many people will seek out those students who they view as knowledgeable about the Middle East to interpret those events in a digestible manner. It's usually good to avoid predictions about anything having to do with this conflict, but I imagine it will make things look better for Israel in the short run.

DF:    Were there good Arabic and Hebrew classes on campus? I'm interested in how the mainstream academic life ties into this worldview and campus activity.

SB:    Yeah, and there were always two or three Palestinian American kids in the Hebrew class and always some Jewish kids in the Arabic class (along with the army ROTC too of course!).

ZG:    Just this semester we got Hebrew and Arabic classes on campus. It was the first time in years that they existed. Trouble was people would always wonder whether the others were there as a kind of "know your enemy" type thing. Arabic was challenging and like any other language class from those I know who took it

DF:    Of course – all those people who did Russian in the 80s and Chinese in the 90s are now doing Arabic!

ZG:    Right!

SB:    One interesting story I know from that is that a Hebrew teacher made her class watch the old Israeli Sallah Shabbati comedy about Sephardi integration with Topol as lead character. My friends Tarek and Raya were in the class, and towards the beginning Sallah insults someone in arabic and it's not subtitled -- and they were the only kids in the class to burst out laughing! It made them like the movie more and think about Ashkenazi/Sephardi differences in a different way i think – not just think of Jews as one thing.

DF:    I think it ties in to what we were saying before about getting to know people, individually and breaking down stereotypes about the people as a whole.

ZG:    Yeah those categories are always getting narrowed - I heard a couple of Arab kids say after a conversation with some Hillel people that it wasn't all Jews they had problems with, just Israelis, and then after they met some Israeli kids, they were like okay, so not all the Israelis either and I think that that was some results of the increased interactions at Hillel and at NOPORK at CU.

DF:    Going back to your earlier comment Zach -- how come they started the Arabic and Hebrew classes?

ZG:    Students wanted them really badly for NOPORK. They existed in a really non-serious fashion in the continuing education school, but students were interested in learning these languages for religious and future career reasons and believed that they shouldn’t have to sacrifice their interests and take Spanish or some other langauge. The university listened and got the money to create them and pay good instructors.

DF:    Post 9/11, Arabic-speakers are perceived as useful to understand "the enemy" but, as Zach has just said, that makes Arabic classes much more serious and prevalent. What effect do you think that increase in Arabic education will have on the perception of Arabs, Arabic, Islam on campus?

SB:    People are still totally ignorant -- they identify the Middle East, and Arabs, with Islam, ignoring that there are many Arab Christians and that most Muslims don't live in the Middle East. Arabic classes can only help, if they include even the slightest amount of background info.

ZG:    I agree... I think it's only positive.

DF:    We were talking earlier about the constellation of parties on campus and the balance they strike. Do you think this growth in investment in Arabic will upset the balance and people will become more Islamophile, Arabophile and begin to blame the Jews?

ZG:    I.e. more credibility to those who question Israel's right to exist? That's a tough question. I don't necessarily think it’s as black and white as you paint it. I think that at the very least it creates opportunities for discussion, both academically and socially.

SB:    I agree, I think that there is a possibility for what you're saying to come about, but on the other hand I think that Jews are just more familiar and safe-feeling to most college students than Arabs and Islam.

ZG:    I think that a lot of things go into creating an environment for questioning Israel's right to exist and I'm not sure that education about Islam alone will have those widespread effects.

SB:    I think anyone who makes political decisions just based on their knowing a language is being a little softheaded! And i agree with Zach about it creating opportunities, more knowledge has got to be better.

DF:    I agree, but language classes are also cultural orientations.

SB:    True, my Mom has an arabic book from the early seventies and the basic sentences are like "the King says the Arab Nation is one" and stuff - it all depends on how much that's the case.

ZG:    Yeah, and in my Hebrew class we had to learn about Zionism, Kibbutzim, etc.

DF:    I think it is impossible and foolish to try to learn a language without the cultural history that surrounds it -- of course there are multiple authorized and unauthorized histories of any culture.

SB:    I suppose it could be the case that people will be just more sympathetic to the Palestinian story of 1948 because they know more Arab history, but I think there needs to be a sophisticated understanding of how to apply that in the present. So these classes may succeed in providing basic cultural orientations for future study.

DF:    Can campus dialogue and language/culture classes do more than just build personal comfort and understanding of the issues and people involved?

ZG:    What could be more than that?

SB:    I'm not sure...I think it depends on the political and campus situations. I think it would be hard to do any less than creating personal comfort with people and issues. If a person attends class even some of the time, they will get pieces of that. I think that a lot of the groups and classes will involve self-selected folks who already felt spurred to greater involvement and others who are interested will use these avenues in civil society to explore more.

ZG:    Agreed.

DF:    But is there any way of connecting to the real players, of forging alliances nationally in colleges, outside colleges, globally? Can you take NOPORK to the nation, NOPORK for the world!

ZG:    Well people who take those classes are low hanging fruit for attendance at events, conversations etc.

SB:    Sustained Dialogue, the one at my school, is national already but engaging those leaders who are not that involved traditionally is key – putting the issues on their radar. I think that right now there is still a model of alignment with the major players that dominate: either you have an Israel advocacy group which tells its members pretty much what to do, in person or through a newsletter or, on the other side, you have the lefty kids who might go to Palestine and work with ISM.

ZG:    I think it's more nuanced. Students can use these groups to create networks that forge their own agendas.

SB:    That would be cool, if some new agenda emerged from American college campuses that spoke differently to the world stage. The real players of tomorrow are our age today by talking to them now, they can become more affectively involved for the future. People forget i think that much of the conflict, in a way, happens here because of the U.S. Congress and all the aid it gives to Israel, and all the American political factors going into that - whether it's AIPAC, or the Christian Zionists, or political inertia, or whatever so there's a lot of argument to be had within the U.S. about policy, which still isn't happening.

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