Middle East issues discussed at Hillel Center open forum

Erin Madsen

While a massive Israeli airstrike against the Palestinians raged in the Middle East, students and an Israeli native engaged in an open forum at the University’s Hillel Jewish Center on Monday.
Amit Rod, a University political science doctoral student and northern Israel native, fielded questions from several participants regarding relations between the United States and Israel, as well as ramifications of the heightening Israeli and Palestinian conflicts.
Rod opened the forum speaking about the strategic layout of Israel and its favorable political and economic connections with the United States.
“The interest of the U.S. and Israel is quite immediate,” Rod said. “Israel is the largest recipient of foreign aid.”
Israel annually receives more than $3 billion in foreign aid from major contributors, including the United States. Much of the money is used for military advancements, Rod said, adding that the United States has its own well-being in mind regarding foreign aid disbursement.
“Israel buys a lot of weapons from the U.S., so there is interest in the continuation of foreign aid because the majority of the military aid is returned to the U.S.,” he said, explaining that the money used to buy weapons boosts the U.S. economy.
Rod said Israel’s location between oil-producing countries is an additional concern for the United States.
“Non-interest would harm the position of the U.S. because the majority of surrounding countries are Arab countries,” he said.
Later, Rod fielded questions ranging from the continuation of conflicts between the Israelis and Palestinians to the safety of Israeli travels.
Sara Deshong, a College of Liberal Arts sophomore and organizer of the event, asked Rod why the Israelis and Palestinians continue to fight.
Rod said the disagreements over Israel’s ownership are similar to foreign attachments of some western European countries.
“Palestinians have some valid argument saying they lived in Israel first,” he said. “It’s like the Dutch in South Africa and the French in Algeria.”
Rabbi Sharon Stiefel, Hillel’s associate director, was curious about the safety of traveling to Israel in the near future.
While Rod said he is returning home over winter break, he advised those thinking about visiting Israel to stay away from Tel Aviv and eastern Israel.
“Chances are small something would happen,” he added. “But it’s kind of a tense period. I’ve heard about safer places.”
Philip Smith, an Augsburg student, asked Rod if writing a letter to Israeli officials encouraging peace and humanity would have an impact on policy.
“I doubt they would read them personally,” Rod said. “If people that can vote for them wrote letters, maybe.”
After the forum, Deshong said she was glad Rod shared his insights and ideas about Israel in this time of crisis.
“There have been a lot of positive Palestinian (public relations),” she said. “This helps Israel get some positive PR.”

Erin Madsen covers community affairs and welcomes comments at [email protected] can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3233