Symposium to address Israel advocacy on US campuses

By MELANIE LIDMAN
February 27, 2011 01:55

J'lem symposium comes before Israel Apartheid Week; aims to change approach to Israel advocacy by looking at Palestinian side.

2 minute read.



Avi Schaefer.

avi schaefer 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

A new fund created in memory of an American-Israeli soldier who was killed in a drunk driving accident at Brown University last year will examine ways to change Israel advocacy on North American campuses in their first annual symposium on Sunday afternoon in Jerusalem.

The symposium falls around the first anniversary of the death of Avi Schaefer, a 21- year-old Santa Barbara, California native who served in elite combat units for three years before enrolling at Brown University.

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It also comes a week before the virulently anti-Israel International Israel Apartheid Week, which will be observed on college campuses starting March 7.

At Brown, Schaefer was involved in Palestinian-Israeli dialogue and was a well-loved leader who raised $5,000 for Haiti relief just weeks before his death.

On February 12, 2010, Schaefer was killed when a drunk driver hit him while he was crossing the street. His family created a fund in his memory to further the work he started at Brown with peace dialogue and Israel advocacy.

The Avi Schaefer Fund will host speakers from the Jewish Agency, the Foreign Ministry, the Shalem Center and the Reut Institute for a symposium entitled “Reimagining Israel on the North American Campus.”

“We felt that the advocacy that Jewish students are taught [on college campuses] is ineffective, and is more destructive than constructive in terms of creating a positive image of Israel on campus,” said Yoav Schaefer, Avi’s identical twin brother and the director of the fund. “We want to change the discussion to mutual respect and nuance, to create a conversation that allows for the understanding of humanity on both sides, which is often absent.”

The symposium will have over 200 attendees from gap year, study abroad and post-graduate programs. Yoav Schaefer said the central idea of the symposium is to radically change the approach to Israel advocacy by encouraging students to consider and acknowledge the Palestinian side of the conflict.

“This is a complex issue and there are two narratives,” said Schaefer. “It’s important to understand both sides. I don’t think advocacy and empathy are contradictory terms, you need to show empathy and compassion on Palestinian side, to understand the difficulties on the Palestinian side and Israel’s role in creating those hardships.

“Advocacy is so focused on beating the Palestinian argument that we’re forgetting that the goal is to work with the Palestinians on creating peace.”

The 4 p.m. symposium has reached the maximum number of participants, but interested parties can sign up for the waiting list at avisymposium.eventbrite.com. More information about the fund is available at avischaeferfund.org.


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