During his second visit to the University on Wednesday evening, Roey Gilad, consulate general of Israel to the Midwest, provided an update about current events in the Middle East from the perspective of the Israeli government.
The event, titled “Israel: Facing the New Challenges in the Current Middle East,” was sponsored by the University’s chapters of advocacy groups J Street, I-LEAD, WolvPAC and the American Movement for Israel as well as the University’s Center for Middle Eastern and North African Studies.
LSA junior Inbar Lev, I-LEAD president, said Gilad reached out to the organization about giving a speech.
“People are very interested in the relationship with our campus and Israel,” Lev said. “(Gilad) gives a very detailed perspective of it, as well as giving an educated one … and I think that’s really important for people to hear who don’t know anything about the issue, or who do and want to learn more about the whole environment.”
In the beginning of his talk, Gilad said he was not going to offer an academic perspective on Israel’s geopolitical and international challenges, but one from the perspective of the Israeli government.
“This is my job and my responsibility,” Gilad said. “The Arab Spring that started four years ago created the most geopolitically challenging situation which we are facing as a state since our establishment 60 to 70 years ago.”
Gilad said Israel faces four forces in the Middle East that challenge its borders. He said these forces include the “Shiite Axis” stretching from Iran, Iraq and Syria; the traditional moderate Sunni Muslim block in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and the Arab Gulf; as well as the Hamas and the Islamic State, also known as ISIS.
“You see how these new geopolitical maps of the Middle East is being translated into a direct threat … to Israel,” Gilad said. “I think it is fair to say that Israel has too many challenges and some opportunities.”
He said Iran continues to threaten and challenge the legitimacy of Israel’s statehood and is currently the country’s biggest challenge in the Middle East.
“We are at a very sensitive time,” he said. “We believe that Iran is a real threat to the state of Israel and to the region. I think nobody would like to see a nuclear Iran.”
Gilad also discussed the military action in the Gaza Strip carried out by the Israeli government last July. He said the Israeli government is committed to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but said Palestinians should also recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
“This is an opportunity to build some kind of partnership (between Israel) and the Sunni block,” he said.
Gilad said he approached I-LEAD because he wanted to bring the concerns of the Israeli government and people to the Jewish community in the Midwest.
“All the kinds of concerns that we have in Israel, sometimes it’s hard to understand them when you are so far, at such a distance,” Gilad said. “If I’ve managed to express some of the concerns that we have in Israel from all this very challenging geopolitical situation, that’s basically what I came to do today.”
LSA freshman Emilie Weisberg said she thought Gilad provided a balanced perspective while still maintaining his own opinion.
“I really just found that from his speech I was educated a bit more on the issues and it helped me see things from a calm, rational perspective,” Weisberg said.
LSA junior Daniel Pearlman said he enjoyed how Gilad spoke from the Israeli government’s perspective.
“He spoke from the heart and the government,” Pearlman said. “Despite everything you see on the news about war, there’s a sense of optimism and there’s huge opportunities to work with Sunni moderate groups … It’s easy to forget there are real people living in the Middle East and it’s not just a conflict.”