Earlier this month, 85 students from Arizona’s universities traveled to Washington, D.C., for J Street’s National Conference. Last month, President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu formally met for the first time in Washington. Those of us who long for peace and are committed to Israel’s character as a Jewish and democratic state have been troubled by the Trump administration’s ambivalence about some of the most fundamental issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and their first public appearance together did not assuage our concerns.
While Trump and his advisers have advanced policies and rhetoric that erode democracy and democratic values in the United States, the pro-settlement faction in Israel has celebrated new settlement expansions and the retroactive legalization of Israeli settlements. The future of a two-state solution is at risk, and one thing is clear: We have a responsibility to fight to make our voices heard and to stand up for Jewish and democratic values, here and in Israel.
On our state’s college campuses, a diverse group of students have already started fighting for this vision. Since J Street U chapters were founded at Arizona State University and the University of Arizona last year, a large number of students have joined our work and engaged in political conversation and advocacy. We took a stand against the demolition of Susya, a Palestinian village in the West Bank threatened with demolition. We called our senators to urge them to vote against Trump’s extreme, pro-settler movement nominee for ambassador to Israel, David Friedman.
An impressive delegation of 85 students from Arizona State University, University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University traveled to J Street’s National Conference in Washington, D.C., with us to learn and meet more than 1,200 other students and over 3,500 delegates from around the country. Our delegation included students learning about the conflict for the first time along with those with deep personal connections to the issue, those with liberal views and those with conservative views. All were united in their dedication to the struggle for human rights and peace for Israelis and Palestinians, and recognized this as a cause that demands our attention.
We kicked off the weekend with a rally, planned and led by J Street U students, to demonstrate broad student support for democracy in Israel and the United States. In the weeks leading up to the conference, democracy in both countries was threatened – in Israel, by a bill retroactively legalizing outposts built on Palestinian land, and in the United States by the executive order banning immigrants and refugees from several Muslim-majority countries. We cannot stay silent while the far right erodes our democracy, and J Street U provided a way for us to speak out.
Over the course of the rest of the weekend, we heard from a variety of speakers about their perspectives and experiences with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, the relationship between the black community and the Jewish community, internal political organizing in Israel, and the role and responsibility of the Jewish community in the Trump era, among many other topics. Perspectives ranged across the political spectrum and dialogue was encouraged among participants from different backgrounds, but one message came through clearly: pro-Israel Americans and American Jews can and must stand up to defend democratic and Jewish values.
I know that I will continue to reflect on what I have learned in the weeks to come, and I come away from this conference energized for the future. I am grateful for the opportunity, not just to have learned from experts and leaders on the issue but also to have connected with over 1,200 students from campuses across the country who are dedicated to fighting together for our shared values. Now that we have returned to Arizona, our delegation is committed to begin working immediately to advocate for a two-state solution and for Israeli-Palestinian peace.
We invite you, the Phoenix Jewish community, to join us in this effort. On April 30, J Street U ASU will host a Yom Hazikaron Israeli-Palestinian Memorial Day Service to mark the loss of life due to this conflict and discuss what we can do to advocate for peace. For more information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.