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Barack Mandela
Lawyer, Military Veteran, and Philosopher

Convert to Judaism Meets Palestinian Community

Barack Mandela, a convert to Judaism, visiting Bir Zeit University. (Personal Collection)

When I was a law student in San Francisco, I converted to both Reform and Orthodox Judaism. My bris (ritual circumcision) was performed by a Chabadnik in Berkeley. It was an inspiring and uplifting transformation and rebirth.

During my conversion to Judaism, I learned about Zionism and the State of Israel. However, I never studied the history of the Palestinian Arab community. In fact, during my conversion studies I only studied Jewish perspectives of Israel.

Soon after my Orthodox conversion, I declared myself a “Zionist”. I then moved to Israel and enlisted in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). I served in three units: Sayeret Golani, the Legal Unit (Praklitut), and as a tank driver in the Armored Brigade.

My heart and soul were filled with a sense of “Zionist” pride as I completed my IDF service. I felt as though I was following in the footsteps of heroes such as Yoni Netanyahu.

After I completed my Israeli military service, I returned to the United States to enlist in the United States Army. I wanted to become an international soldier in two different militaries: America and Israel.

I then decided to learn more about Palestinian Arab communities. I felt I had neglected to learn more about Arab culture and history. I wanted to balance my combat service in Israel with a healthy sensitivity towards Palestinians.

Since I am a man of action, I immediately took three steps:

First, I visited Bir Zeit University near Ramallah where I talked to Palestinian students. I met Arab students who support the so-called resistance against Zionism. In my opinion, Bir Zeit University is the Harvard University of the Palestinian world.

Second, I took two tours of Ramallah where I visited falafel restaurants and coffee shops where I interacted with Palestinian Arabs. For hours, I just sat with the Arab community and talked about their lives and struggles.

Third, I took two trips to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan which has a large Palestinian community. I visited Amman, Petra, Baka’a refugee camp, Za’atari refugee camp, Jerash, and Western Amman. I spent hours sitting in the famous Al-Husseini Mosque talking to Jordanian people.

By reaching out to members of Arab communities and visiting the people, I am more balanced in my approach to the so-called Arab-Israeli conflict. Whereas initially I only studied the official Zionist narrative, I now have deep experiences with Arab peoples.

I now have expertise and experience in the region, and I have a powerful vision for a New Middle East. I have a three-part plan for President Joe Biden called The Biden Plan for Peace in the Middle East.

First, President Biden will host Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Mahmoud Abbas at Camp David for peace talks.

Second, the peace talks will end with a signed diplomatic document called Declaration of Peace Between Israel and Palestinian Communities. The agreement will be signed at the White House.

Third, the United States will announce a one billion dollar investment to build infrastructure in Palestinian cities, towns, and villages.

As I have extensive one-the-ground experiences in the region, I hope this new plan will serve as a breakthrough between Israelis and Palestinians. Hopefully, we can bring an end to war and build a new future of cooperation and peace.

About the Author
Licensed Attorney. I earned a Doctor of Law at the University of California, College of the Law, San Francisco (Hastings) . I earned a Bachelor of Arts from the University of California, Riverside. I was an international student at the University of Costa Rica Faculty of Law and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem Faculty of Law. I am a military veteran of the United States Air Force, United States Army, and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). I am a laureate of the National Defense Service Medal from the Pentagon. I am a financial donor to following: Harvard Law, Yale Law, Stanford Law, Berkeley Law, UC Hastings College of the Law, UC Davis Law, Columbine High School, Choate Rosemary Hall, Phillips Exeter Academy, Sidwell Friends School, Viewpoint School, Beverly Hills High School, Eton College in the United Kingdom, Special Olympics, Children's Defense Fund, Obama Foundation, Clinton Foundation, Barbra Streisand Foundation, Princeton University, Florida A&M, Howard University, Spelman College, Morehouse College, and the British Red Cross. I am former special assistant and staff attorney to Governor Pete Wilson of California. I was public affairs assistant to US Senator Barbara Boxer and Mayor Ehud Olmert of Jerusalem and Jerusalem spokesperson Haggai Elias. I am a member of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, and I am a member of the Republican Jewish Coalition.
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