It all began with the realization of a common theme among all of my Middle East studies courses at UC Berkeley: the Arab-Israeli conflict. Most of my courses involved the history and politics of the Israeli-Palestinian legacy. However, news from connections in Israel had brought my attention to another pressing global affair which promised to be equally if not more impactful than the Arab-Israeli conflict: the impending hostilities between Iran and Israel. With the possibility of nuclear warfare, these two great Middle Eastern powers are like the time bomb being blissfully ignored while popular Media focuses on scuffles between Hamas, Fatah and Netanyahu.
What to do? The goal was to draw greater attention to the issue of Iran and Israel, beginning with the younger crowds. I figured that beginning from my own peer group of social network-invested college students might help spread the word which was, most importantly, how so many of us wish to prevent this conflict. Having grown up in Silicon Valley, the city with the highest population of Iranians in the U.S. outside of Los Angeles, writing my Bachelor thesis on the Iranian Diaspora, and hailing from a Jewish background with friends and relatives in Israel, I had developed a soft spot for both parties.
Finally, during my senior year of college, my Israeli friend Rebecca Leff and I struck up a friendship with an Iranian PhD student Afshar [name changed] living in our residence. We were the first Jews he had ever met. His famous line to us:
“In Iran, we just heard that Jews look scary. You don’t look scary.”
After spending nearly every evening studying together and even taking him Israeli dancing, Rebecca and I decided to initiate a grassroots Iran-Israel peace project by establishing the Iran-Israel Student Coalition at Berkeley, the first student-led Iran-Israel cultural collaboration in the world. It was during our organization’s kick-off event, an Iranian-Israeli joint coffee hour, that I met over 25 Iranian students who were intrigued to meet a Jew for the first time but who asked to please not be photographed at the event out of fear for their families if the Islamic Republic were to discover their association with Jews and Israelis. The fact that these individuals chose to risk so much to spend an evening with a people their government had taught them to hate and fear truly brought tears to my eyes.
Such inspiration for intercultural understanding led to the creation of our organization’s logo: the dove and the pomegranate, two classic symbols of Middle Eastern culture and–as many have since pointed out–it is anyone’s guess as to which symbol represents which culture. The peoples of the Middle East all share so much in common and it is my vision that many more will soon recognize that similarity.