Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will give his first lecture at Northwestern on Feb. 4, an event resulting from the efforts of nine students to secure financial backing from the Medill School of Journalism and NU’s Fiedler Hillel Center.
Weinberg junior David Farahi thought to bring Netanyahu to NU and then enlisted a group of his friends to help plan the event – from funding the plane fare to Chicago to making sure the microphones will be turned on at Pick-Staiger Concert Hall.
After studying for a month last summer at the University of Tel Aviv, Farahi said American citizens were unaware of the true nature of events in Israel because of poorly media coverage. Netanyahu would help bridge that gap, he said.
“As a representative of the state of Israel, though not a government official, he’s able to present his thoughts clearly to an American audience,” Farahi said.
Farahi said Netanyahu can identify with an American audience because he received his high school and college education in the United States and recently focused his career on developing anti-terror policies.
The cost to bring Netanyahu is reported to be steep – one Northern California newspaper reported that he commanded around $50,000 for an October 2000 speech. Farahi began to seek backing from groups affiliated with Northwestern, first approaching Rabbi Michael Mishkin, director of the Hillel Center.
“(David’s idea) is very much in the vision of Hillel, which is to empower students to brainstorm programs that interest them and to channel their talents and their passions in a creative way,” said Mishkin, who pledged Hillel’s help.
Farahi then approached Medill Dean Loren Ghiglione, who referred him to Jennifer Urias, who administers the Crain Lecture Series. Although the major goal of the series is to bring top journalism professionals to campus, Urias said the lectures also should encourage the discussion of current events.
Farahi then formally invited Netanyahu to campus as part of Medill’s Crain Lecture Series in a letter co-signed by Ghiglione and Mishkin.
“Mr. Netanyahu is one voice of many in Israel, but it’s a significant voice because he represents many citizens there,” Mishkin said. “It can spark conversation on campus and dialogue and my hope is it will do that.”
Both Mishkin and Urias declined to comment on the amount Netanyahu will receive for his NU appearance.
Elected prime minister with a victory margin of less than 1 percent in 1996, Netanyahu’s three-year term was marked by divisions between his Likud Party and the opposing Labor Party on how to handle peace negotiations. Tensions between Jews and Arabs intensified during Netanyahu’s tenure, leading to the election of Labor’s Ehud Barak in 1999.
Due to the breakdown in peace talks during Netanyahu’s term, some Arabs at NU questioned the notion of campus organizations only funding a speaker from one side of the debate.
“It’s for the benefit of the college to bring people from both sides of the story and it’s his right to speak,” McCormick Senior Hisham Zaid, a member of the Arab Cultural Society. “But my question is, will they bring people from the Palestinian government? If not, there’s an extreme bias.”
Tickets for Netanyahu’s lecture, titled “Defeating Terrorism,” will be available beginning Friday, Jan. 25, at the box office in Norris University Center. The event is free for both NU students and members of the community.