At the end of March, four UVA students, myself included, convened with 3,000 pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans at J Street’s national conference in D.C. J Street is a nonprofit advocacy group that aims to promote American leadership to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict peacefully and diplomatically. Of those in attendance more than 1,000 were students representing their university's chapter of J Street U. At the conference we heard from a colorful assortment of Israeli Knesset members, journalists, and peace activists on Israeli-American relations, Israel’s recent elections, and practical prospects for peace. We also had opportunities to meet students from universities across the country and learn about their involvement and personal stake in ensuring Israel’s future as a secure Jewish Democracy.
The speakers, panels, and conversations from our two days at the conference also gave us a first-hand understanding of how diverse the pro-Peace camp really is. As expected, I met a lot of Jews my age that grew up caring and learning about Israel through family, school, and visits, but I was surprised to also see so many Christian, Muslim, and Latino students who had learned about the conflict more recently, as well. One student I have come to know personally is a first generation Pakistani-American from Maryland who first studied the conflict in high school. She has since studied abroad in Jerusalem, traveled throughout Israel and the West Bank, and become a leader on J Street U’s National Student Board. At the conference she gave an impassioned speech about urging attendees to take ownership of our future by working towards a two-state solution.
Bringing back my experiences at the conference to grounds, I hope that J Street UVa can play a role in fostering constructive spaces for engaging with Israel. We want to give students from various backgrounds the chance to grapple with the complex moral issues and political realities in Israel. It is my hope that the Jewish, Palestinian, and the broader UVa community will join our efforts to combat apathy and promote productive action while maintaining a respectful environment.
- Ori Shimony