Dialogue on Israel and Palestine program aims to foster open conversation in second phase

Fathma Rahman, Assistant Campus Editor

Growing up as a Jewish-American, Weinberg senior Lucy Blumberg said she always identified strongly with her Jewish side. Upon arriving at Northwestern, she said she felt as if she had to decide between her Jewish identity and her commitment to social justice — a choice she felt she shouldn’t have to make.

Blumberg is one of the co-moderators of the Dialogue on Israel and Palestine program, alongside Weinberg senior Alexa Klein-Mayer. This quarter, the group will meet once a week for six weeks, with students participating in a 90-minute dialogue about the conflict on a “personal and open level,” Klein-Mayer said.

The program began last year, when some Sustained Dialogue moderators and Students for Justice in Palestine members noticed that students seemed uncomfortable discussing the Israel-Palestine conflict following the launch of the Northwestern Divest campaign, Blumberg said.

“We wanted to create a space where people felt a little more comfortable sharing their views explicitly and honestly without the intense dichotomic debate forums that have been the only way they have been able to talk about this issue so far,” Blumberg said.

Blumberg and Klein-Mayer said they were chosen as moderators by outgoing seniors who developed the original idea. Blumberg is involved with Sustained Dialogue, which she said she began participating in as a way to parse out issues of identity, power and privilege that came up for her. Klein-Mayer, an active member of SJP and NU Divest, said she is passionate about the Israel-Palestine conflict even though she is not Jewish or tied to either country and described herself as “just an American citizen.”

“Because everyone was graduating, it was going to be a dead project,” Klein-Mayer said. “But one of them said to us, ‘If you want to make this happen, it’s on you.’”

The pair began meeting during Fall Quarter to plan how they hoped to see the dialogue play out and ran their first round during Winter Quarter, Blumberg said. This will be their second round of the program.

The group was in part a product of the NU Divest campaign, Klein-Mayer said. Some students felt the campaign was overly divisive, she said, and the dialogue group aims to provide a space to combat that tension.

“We’re bringing it back to a personal level that is not open for debate, but just for opening others to understand and to have provocative moments that challenge people’s views and expand their perspective,” Klein-Mayer said.

Weinberg senior Edward Duron said he was involved with some of the planning conversations leading up to the first round of the program and participated in the dialogue during Winter Quarter.

“It was a good experience, which had me thinking critically about Israel and Palestine and also voicing those things to other people,” Duron said. “If there is such an insistence to talk about this on campus, almost to the point where it’s detracting and counterproductive, then this is what we’re doing now — we’re having that dialogue.”

Ultimately, Blumberg and Klein-Mayer said they hope to create a space where people can be challenged in a critical way they have not been before.

“I hope everyone has one mind-blowing experience during the dialogue,” Klein-Mayer said. “A moment where they have a radical insight into something that’s different to how they used to perceive Israel-Palestine.”

Email: fathma@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @fathma_rahman