Biss talks Israel, gubernatorial campaign at NU event


Colin Boyle/Daily Senior Staffer

State Sen. Daniel Biss (D-Evanston) speaks to students at Kafein, located at 1621 Chicago Ave. He discussed his Israeli roots and his gubernatorial campaign.

Catherine Henderson, Assistant City Editor

State Sen. Daniel Biss (D-Evanston) spoke to an intimate group about his gubernatorial campaign and Israeli roots at Evanston coffee shop Kafein on Sunday night.

About 30 Northwestern students and community members attended the event at 1621 Chicago Ave., co-hosted by Hillel and NU College Democrats. The discussion was also the second event of NU’s Israel Week.

Biss’ mother grew up in Israel, and his maternal grandmother survived the Holocaust, escaping Auschwitz at the end of World War II, he said at the event.

“I grew up seeing a tattoo on my grandmother’s wrist and not knowing what it was but knowing that when I asked her about it she got very upset,” Biss said. “I was raised by a family that felt the most powerful lesson to gain from that experience is the lesson that there’s tremendous fragility and vulnerability in our personal human relations … that we have the profound responsibility to recognize our own privilege and then utilize that privilege as a vehicle with which to protect everybody.”

Biss urged audience members, mostly NU students, to consider ingroup-outgroup dynamics such as race, gender and geography and to work to empower marginalized groups. He said these values prompted him to go into politics, especially after watching the devastation of the Iraq War.

During the Q&A part of the event, many students focused on Biss’ failed campaign for governor. Biss, who lost the Democratic nomination to billionaire heir and businessman J.B. Pritzker in March, told students not to give up on public service and continue taking “baby steps” toward changing the political system.

“I know there’s a lot of people in this room who were involved in our campaign for governor … and I want to say thank you,” Biss said. “The fight that we were in over the course of that race is a fight that is more important than ever.”

Ariana Hammersmith (SESP ’18) said she campaigned for Biss as an organizational fellow and intern.

“Hopefully he has a bright political future, but he was in a really tough race,” Hammersmith said. “He’s also a really wonderful person to listen to.”

When asked about Israel, Biss said the Israeli government is “terrible” and the country’s human rights violations are “tragic.” He said the creation of a Palestinian state is a “moral necessity.”

Biss dropped his former running mate, Chicago Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th), from his ticket in September after it became clear that their views on Israel had diverged. Ramirez-Rosa supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions — a movement calling for the end of financial and social support for Israel to respect the rights of Palestinians — at the federal level.

At the Sunday event, Biss said he opposes the divisiveness of BDS, calling it a “grenade.”

“The right thing to do is to look for solutions that don’t further inflame the division,” Biss said. “Look for solutions that begin to bring people together.”

Israel Week chair Ariel Sheffey said people came out both for the Jewish and political discussions, adding that she thought Biss did a good job of addressing both topics.

She said the event was a good start for the week and hopes it showed Israel Week is inclusive.

“Israel Week might have a perception on this campus that it’s just about supporting Israel wholeheartedly,” Sheffey said. “But to me, Israel Week is also about thinking both emotionally and from a nuanced lens about the issues that Israel faces and being critical in feeling uncomfortable.”

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