Avraham Burg, speaker of Israel’s legislative body, the Knesset, said yesterday that he is optimistic about Israel’s future.

Shabina Khatri
Keynote speaker and Israeli Knesset member Avraham Burg speaks at the Academic Israel Conference yesterday.

“Israel today is an unbelievable reality of influence and wealth,” he said, addressing attendees of the 2nd Annual Academic Israel Conference titled “Israel: Piecing the Puzzle together.”

But Burg spent a sizeable portion of his keynote speech, “The Future of Israel: Challenges and Opportunities,” addressing pressing issues that Israel faces today, mainly the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

Burg advocated the use of the “two-state solution,” in which Israel would have to make territorial concessions to the Palestinians as a means of achieving peace in Israel.

“It’s the kind of amputation that will enable the rest of the body to survive,” Burg said.

Many in the audience, such as Canton resident Abe Kandah, came only for Burg’s portion of the conference. Kandah, who is Palestinian, said Burg seemed to be knowledgeable about the Palestinian viewpoint.

“He’s not afraid to show his dream for a greater Israel, but at the same time he recognizes that the Palestinians have a dream for the greater Palestine,” Kahdah said.

Engineering junior Maya Mandel, an international student from Israel, said she fully supports the “two state solution” that Burg proposed.

“I think he did a good job of presenting the facts and the hope of the Israeli people for the future,” she said.

But political science Prof. Raymond Tanter, who spoke at a session titled “Rogue Regime Change and Democratic Peace in Historic Palestine,” said he disagrees with Burg’s solution to the conflict.

“He represents a position within Israeli society that has very little support,” he said.

LSA seniors David Post and Samantha Rollinger, the conference’s co-chairs, said they wanted to invite speakers who would represent a point of view prevalent among both Palestinians and Israelis.

Rollinger said Burg has gained support from some Palestinians because of his desire for peace.

“The only solution is a peace settlement in the future,” Post said. “I hope conference participants will learn that this conflict involves two peoples struggling to fulfill nationalistic aspirations,” he added.

Although the focus of the conference was on Israel, Rollinger and Post said they wanted to present a balanced view of the conflict.

A midday panel featuring Jewish history Prof. Todd Endelman and Long Island University political science and Middle Eastern studies Prof. Muhammed Muslih presented both the Palestinian and Israeli viewpoints in a panel titled “To be a Nation: The Interaction of Zionism and Palestinian Nationalism in the Conflict of the Past and the Possibility of Peace in the Future.”

Although he thought the panel was well-balanced because it included a Palestinian speaker, LSA senior Fadi Kiblawi said Muslih only represented one viewpoint among a diverse range of opinions held by Palestinians. Kiblawi added that the panel overall avoided subjective aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian debate.

“I agree with most of what was said because it was more of a factual account and it was not very opinionated,” he said.

LSA freshman Aisha Jukaku said she thought the speakers overall were more critical of the Palestinians.

“I saw a more balanced viewpoint than I expected but at the same time it was still very biased,” she said.

But many conference attendees said they thought the event succeeded in promoting constructive dialogue about the Israeli-Palestinian debate.

University of California at Los Angeles Prof. Steven Spiegel, who gave a historical overview of the conflict in a session titled “Introduction to the Arab-Israeli Conflict,” said he was concerned about presenting the issue fairly from both sides.

“No one seemed on either side to be too upset,” he said after his session.

“I was pleased that I was able to have a rational, serious discussion. That is not always possible with this issue,” Spiegel added.

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