Northeastern University hosted a Knesset delegation for a town-hall event Tuesday night at Northeastern. During a spirited yet civil discussion, the six delegation members from the Israeli parliament discussed a range of topics, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Israel’s current economic challenges, and the connection between Israel and the Jewish community in America.
The Ruderman Family Foundation brought the delegation to the United States as part of its Knesset Fellows Program. More than 300 people gathered in Blackman Auditorium for the event, titled “Town Hall Boston: A Discussion on Israel and American Jews,” which was held in partnership with the Ruderman Family Foundation and the Combined Jewish Philanthropies and The Jewish Advocate.
The Knesset delegation comprised Dr. Nahman Shai and Itzik Shmuli (Labor Party), Dr. Shimon Ohayon (Likud-Yisrael Beitenu), Shulamit Mualem Rephaeli (Habayit Hayehudi), Michal Rozin (Meretz), and Shimon Solomon (Yesh Atid). Veteran journalist Kasey Kaufman moderated the event.
Jay Ruderman, president of the Ruderman Family Foundation, said the goal of the delegation—the third that has been brought to the U.S.—“is to educate the Knesset members on the pluralism, the diversity, the connection of the Jewish community to Israel, and how that connection may or may not be shifting.”
The delegation represented the political spectrum, and each member emphasized the importance of finding a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The discussion—and audience interaction—remained civil throughout the evening, despite Knesset members’ diverse viewpoints on certain issues. This was most evident with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Rephaeli supported a one-state solution, in which Palestinians are citizens and have equal rights. Rozin and Solomon, however, supported a two-state solution. Shai, for his part, said “in order to finally end this longtime conflict between us and the Palestinians, they should accept Israel as a Jewish democratic state.”
Later, when asked about prisoner-soldier exchanges being part of peace negotiations, Solomon said they are necessary to bring both sides together, despite the difficulty in releasing people who’ve caused harm. Rozin agreed, though she emphasized that not all prisoners are terrorists. Ohayon, for his part, warned that releasing prisoners before peace negotiations are completed could jeopardize progress.
When the conversation shifted to Israel’s economy, Shmuli noted not only significant housing issues but also that one-third of Israeli children live in poverty. In response, he said Israel must invest more in education, stop the erosion of social services, and help subsidize the cost of housing for young Israelis.
Knesset members all agreed that it’s critical for the Israeli government to learn more about and connect with the Jewish community in America. “We must be accessible,” Shai said. “They look at Israel as a second home. … Israel is their country as well as ours.”
Ruderman noted the foundation’s longstanding relationship with Northeastern, which includes the establishment of the Ruderman Professorship in Jewish Studies. The town-hall event at Northeastern is the only public event during the delegation’s trip to America, which includes visits to Massachusetts and New York.
Earlier on Tuesday, the student organization Progressive Student Alliance hosted author and activist Ali Abunimah, who discussed and signed copies of his latest book, The Battle for Justice in Palestine. Abunimah is the co-founder of Electronic Intifada, which according to its website is an independent online news publication and educational resource focusing on Palestine, its people, politics, culture, and place in the world.
In welcome remarks at the evening town-hall event, Stephen W. Director, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, noted Northeastern’s commitment to being a global institution that strives to “help our students become citizens of the world.” “This means learning to listen to different voices and consider the world from perspectives of those who challenge us,” he said. “Tonight, we’re gathered to exchange ideas and learn from one another’s questions.”
The event, Director said, aligns with Northeastern’s commitment to fostering an environment that embraces civil discussion of many viewpoints and diversity across campus. He noted that President Joseph E. Aoun last year announced the formation of the Presidential Council on Diversity and Inclusion, comprised of students, faculty, and staff. It kicked off a yearlong civic sustainability series titled “Conflict. Civiilty. Respect. Peace. Northeastern Reflects.”
In a fitting end to the event, Kaufman asked if the six Knesset members liked each other. They collectively agreed they did, despite their differing views.