Guest Column: Fix Israel-Palestine conversation through focus on peace


Josh Boxerman, Guest Columnist

Ever since I got involved, countless friends and family members have asked me the same question: “What exactly is J Street U?”

The short answer: J Street U is a pro-Israel, pro-Palestine student movement that advocates for strong American leadership to achieve a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The shorter answer: We’re actually interested in having a constructive conversation about Israel and Palestine.

And the most important answer: We’re in the business of ending the conflict right now.

This winter, we’ve witnessed a surge in campus conversation surrounding the conflict as a result of the American Studies Association’s resolution to boycott Israeli academic institutions. The Northwestern administration unilaterally rejected the boycott, which prompted a flurry of responses from students and professors. Students for Justice in Palestine sponsored a panel promoting the ASA boycott as part of the larger movement to boycott, divest and sanction (BDS) Israel, while Wildcats for Israel gathered signatures to show student support for the administration.

This conversation is important. It represents a significant step forward for a campus that has tended to avoid political issues. But this conversation is broken.

This conversation sticks to the aspects of the conflict that most directly relate to campus life: academic boycotts, academic freedom and the role of the university administration as a political actor independent of the student body. These questions are simple, accessible and relatable to our lives as students.

But here’s the problem: That conversation won’t impact the situation on the ground in Israel and Palestine. And as important as questions of academics are, they remain just that — academic. If we can’t even have a campus conversation that surrounds the actual core issues of the conflict, how can we possibly hope to have a real impact? And if we’re not trying to make an impact, why even bother with the conversation?

There are peace negotiations, revived and led by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, that are happening right now, and it feels like no one on campus is talking about them. Between all the statements, the letters and the panel, not a single group is focusing on the greatest challenge, choice and opportunity currently facing Israelis and Palestinians: the necessary, painful concessions both sides will have to make to bring about political compromise and take the first giant leap toward peace. The campus conversation has been missing what needs to be its most important piece.

That’s where J Street U comes in. Because as important as it is to discuss issues of occupation and academic freedom, neither occurs in a vacuum. Because it’s downright irresponsible to talk about Israel and Palestine without mentioning the historic opportunity before us. Because, through the negotiations, we have a chance to create real change on the ground — right now.

As students, we have the ability to make an impact far beyond the confines of our campus by joining with like-minded students across the country who share our beliefs and our goals: safeguarding Israel as a Jewish and democratic state and liberating Palestinians from occupation, ensuring to both peoples the right to live in the land with self-determined national futures.

Kerry has brought Israeli and Palestinian negotiators back to the table to deal directly with these issues. On campus, if we care about Israelis and Palestinians, if we care about US foreign policy, if we care about global human rights, we need to have those same conversations.

What will the borders of Israel and Palestine look like? How can security be ensured for both sides? What is a fair solution for millions of Palestinian refugees? Can a compromise be reached on the status of Jerusalem?

On a national scale, as part of the 2 Campaign, J Street U is organizing students to mobilize a great constituency for peace. By tackling the core issues directly, we raise awareness and build momentum for two states. By standing up and being counted, we become a potent voice for compromise. And by coming together as a Northwestern community to support the negotiations, we can have a tangible and immediate impact on the lives of millions of Israelis and Palestinians — right now.

Josh Boxerman is a Weinberg junior and a co-founder of the Northwestern chapter of J Street U. He can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].