While there has been much debate about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on campus, an upcoming conference hopes to present a balanced, academic dialogue about the controversial issue.
The 2nd Annual Academic Israel Conference, titled “Piecing Together the Puzzle,” will take place Sunday at the Michigan League.
The keynote address, titled “The Future of Israel: Challenges and Opportunities,” will feature Avraham Burg, speaker of Israel’s legislative body, the Knesset.
“Avraham Burg is one of the most influential politicians in Israel today. He is an outspoken proponent of the peace process,” conference co-chair David Post said.
Post said the focus of the conference this year is to promote an academic discussion about Israel-related issues and the conflict in the Middle East, the only conference of its kind in the United States.
Another goal of the conference is to expand the different points of view represented in order to widen dialogue on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Post said.
“We have expanded the breadth of speakers,” Post said, adding that the conference will include a midday panel with Palestinian speaker Prof. Muhammad Muslih of Long Island University, and New York University Prof. Arthur Hertzberg, an expert on Zionism.
But some students are concerned that there are not enough conference speakers representing the pro-Palestinian viewpoint.
“All of their speakers but one are unambiguously pro-Israeli,” said Fadi Kiblawi, chair of Students Allied for Freedom and Equality.
Kiblawi, an LSA senior, said last year’s conference included no pro-Palestinian speakers. Last year, SAFE staged mock Israeli military checkpoints to protest the event. Kiblawi said SAFE does not plan to protest the conference on Sunday.
“I think the most effective way to counter the vastly pro-Israeli message of this conference is just to attend and make sure our voice is heard through the question and answer session,” he said.
Engineering sophomore Maher Iskandar, a member of SAFE, the Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee, and the Muslim Students Association, said he is attending the conference to see what is said about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to make sure the message it presents is fair and accurate.
But, he said he is skeptical that the conference will present a balanced view of the debate.
“I think it’s going to be a very biased view,” he said.
Benjamin Berger, a Berman fellow at Hillel, said although the conflict in Israel is an important issue, one goal of the conference is to present topics unrelated to the Israeli-Palestinian debate.
“Israel as a democracy is a vibrant and flourishing country where there’s a lot more going on besides conflict,” he said.
Berger said some of the sessions of the conference will focus on Israeli cultural, societal and environmental issues.
Topics that will be explored include “Environmental Management as a Bridge to Peace and Cooperation in the Middle East,” “The Psychological Effects of the Terror of the Second Intifada on Israeli Civilians,” “Rogue Regime Change and Democratic Peace,” “Israel’s Cultural Roots,” “US-Israeli Relations” and the “Implications of the 2003 Israeli Elections.”
The conference is free to the University community and the general public.