A model for civil dialogue on campus

Is there a contradiction between being a Zionist and a journalist? Are Zionism and the Jewish state founded on racist ideals? Are Jews in Israel institutionally racist?

These are some of the questions that Lahav Harkov, the Knesset Correspondent to the Jerusalem Post, was asked at Nottingham University, where CAMERA Fellow Daniel Kosky organised an event that was attended by over 70 students. Co-hosted with the Culture, Film and Media Society, the event touched on Lahav’s success as a journalist early on in her career and went on to discuss Israel’s political makeup and history.

Lahav emphasised that Zionism is misunderstood so often in the public arena to denote support for government policies, as well as being seen as a ‘racist ideology’. However, as Lahav told her audience at Nottingham University, Zionism is simply the movement for the national self-determination of the Jewish people. Being a Zionist means you believe in Israel’s right to exist and Zionism encompasses a wide range of opinions and political views. When Lahav was pressed on this point after her speech, a student invoked myths surrounding the War of Independence including the accusation that all of the Arabs who were displaced during the War were forcibly removed by the fledging Israel Defence Forces.

Lahav dispelled common misconceptions about Israel’s founding, noting that most great Zionist thinkers never envisioned any violence against Arabs as part of the establishment of the State of Israel. She explained that the War of Independence was not a war of aggression started by Israel, but rather a defensive war as five Arab armies attacked Israel, beginning the fighting due to a total rejection of Jewish statehood.

Lahav also commented on the institutionalized racism against Israelis which unfortunately exists today in school curriculums and other places through the Palestinian Authority. She was challenged on this by a Jordanian student who brought up racialist quotes made by certain fringe figures in Israel. Lahav was able to elaborate on the very diverse nature of opinion that exists in Israel whilst highlighting, however, that extreme nationalist figures are always alienated from society.

As Lahav explained her view, as an Israeli Jew, of Zionism, one could see the visible impact this had on the students in the room. At the end of the talk, the President of the Palestinian Society who had asked a hostile question approached Lahav with a new perspective. She admitted that she had never thought about Zionism meaning something different to Israelis than the negative connotations it holds in anti-Zionist circles.

Daniel Kosky said of Lahav’s speech: ‘Members of the Palestinian Society, as well as leaders of the university’s Labour and Conservative student groups were in attendance, all of which engaged in respectful dialogue and debate.’ The event indeed showed that Israel events do not seek to shut down discussion with different student groups who may share an opposing opinion. As Daniel’s article on previous events pertaining to Israel at the university this academic year reveals, it was essential that the perspective of an Israeli be put forward on this campus. It was overall refreshing to see that students who came into the event denying the rights of a Jewish state had the opportunity to leave having heard a new perspective, after speaking face to face with an Israeli perhaps for the first time in their lives.

Daniel also said: ‘What I am most pleased about, is that a large percentage of the audience had never been to an Israel related event before’. The diverse audience at the event was evident; with students from all across the political spectrum, as well as Jordanian and Palestinian students. However, Lahav’s in depth and factually-based introduction to the political system and societal makeup of Israel introduced the topic in a very accessible way and created an environment for civil dialogue.

Lahav was on a CAMERA on Campus UK tour of university campuses in the UK last week. She went across the UK and Ireland to speak to students about the diverse makeup of Israel’s Knesset, and how this in turn reflects a very diverse society.

Over the entirety of Lahav’s visit she reached many new audiences, also speaking at Maynooth University in the Republic of Ireland and in Glasgow to Strathclyde University, as well as to UCL and King’s in London.

As someone who has been reporting on the Knesset for the past six years, Lahav knows very well the vibrant and flourishing democracy that exists in Israel. During Lahav’s speeches, she outlined the 10 different parties in the Knesset and the messy nature of Israeli politics. From the Supreme Court, to the proportional representation system, there are both many similarities and many differences between the British and Israeli political systems. Lahav brought Israel’s democracy to life and shed light on the country which is a beacon of hope in a region of tyranny. At Nottingham and other universities, she managed to engage a variety of students in the country’s vibrant democracy in an overall very successful tour.

About the Author
Tamara Berens is a second year undergraduate student at Kings College London and a UK Campus Associate for CAMERA.