Though students often hear about the Arab-Israeli conflict from their peers and professors, yesterday they had the opportunity to hear from a columnist at the nation’s newspaper of record.

Several hundred people packed the Rogel Ballroom in the Michigan Union last night to listen to a lecture by New York Times columnist Roger Cohen. Cohen’s talk was a part of the Center of Judaic Studies’ two-day “Israel Today” symposium and focused on three major themes — the role of Iran in Israel, Israel’s reaction to the Arab Spring and internal Israeli tension due to escalating tensions in the region.

Cohen began by discussing his own heritage as a Lithuanian Jew, a population nearly eliminated during the Holocaust. In his speech, he argued that the Arab-Israeli conflict involves all humans, regardless of faith, and has perpetuated violence and death over a slew of issues since its onset.

“Out of this conflict has been radicalism, violence (and) repeated wars, and there’s no question that the world would be a different place if it were solved,” Cohen said.

Cohen said the Holocaust shaped his view of the conflict and influenced his preference for a two-state solution.

“We the Jews, who have been through enough oppression (and) humiliation in our history to know that we as Jews do not want to inflict that on another people,” he said.

Both Israel and the Palestinians have, at different times, attempted to portray their states as victims of the other, Cohen said. He dubbed the issue “Victim Olympics,” and noted its lack of productivity in solving the problem.

Though discord between the two combatants has occurred for almost a century, Cohen told the audience that college students can play a significant role in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

“The more creative energy young people can apply there, the better,” he said.

Cohen said the actions of Israel and the United States in dealing with Iran will have a lasting effect on the region, also noting that being a proponent of Israel can also mean “being a critical friend” of the country.

“I can assure you one thing,” he said. “If Israel and the United States were to bomb Iran, a move which I oppose passionately … any visitor to Tehran 50 years from now would be reminded of that one day in 2012 that the West bombed Iran,” he said.

Despite all of the current turmoil, Cohen said he ultimately remains hopeful for a peaceful solution.

“I’m not a complete pessimist,” he said. “I do believe extraordinary things can happen.”

Organizations like J Street — a pro-Israel organization that advocates for collaboration in developing policy that establishes a two-state solution — which Cohen mentioned several times during the lecture, support his hope for a two-state solution.

Mandy Kain, an executive member of J Street Umich, the University’s chapter of the organization, attended the lecture and wrote in an e-mail that she agreed with Cohen’s ideas.

“I think Roger Cohen’s talk did a fantastic job of demonstrating that you can be an avid supporter of Israel, can treasure its peace and security and still advocate for a Palestinian state,” Kain wrote.

She added that she believes effective policy that advocates for peace can be attained through increased collaboration and discussion among opposing groups.

“I think the future of Israel can be a very bright one if people let go of the old, divisive rhetoric of ‘Pro Israel’ vs. ‘Pro Palestine’ and embrace dialogue and a two-state solution,” Kain wrote.

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