University of Miami (UM) is a tranquil campus with perfect sunny weather, competitive sports and plenty of parties. But what makes UM unique from other is that the school has next to no anti-Israel activity on campus. UM students are not exposed to a zealous staging of mock checkpoints and they don’t need to develop innovative methods to counter the BDS movement.
Generally, according to UM Junior Jordan Magid, UM students veer from educating themselves about the Israel-Palestine conflict and have a passively positive view of Israel. But this hasn’t stopped Magid from working to encourage even more positive Israel views on campus.
At the beginning of the current school year, Magid, an MZ-Grinspoon intern at UM, started a unique campus fellowship to bring student leaders together to advocate for Israel.
“Everyone on campus was just too casual and uneducated about Israel,” Magid told ICB. “I wanted to change that.”
This new fellowship, known as the "I-Team," is an intensive pro-Israel group that merges education and event planning in each meeting. After an extensive and rigorous application process in which applicants had to demonstrate commitment to the cause, 11 students from diverse backgrounds, including Jews, Christians, and a Palestinian, were invited to join the I-Team.
Each I-Team member has a leadership role in a campus group, such as student council, journalism club, “Engineers Not Borders” and JAM (Jews and Muslims). Through the I-Team training, these student leaders have been encouraged to bring their motivation and excitement about Israel to their other groups.
Biweekly two-hour meetings include a discussion of current events in Israel, planning of campus events and a guest speaker from a wide variety of pro-Israel organizations. Speakers give presentations meant to equip the I-Team with the appropriate information to advocate for Israel. Past guests have included Israel's Consul-General in Miami, Chaim Shacham as well as representatives of a variety of organizations.
Reem Habash, a Palestinian member of the I-Team and recent graduate of UM, is especially interested in the educational aspect of the I-Team.
“My dad, a Palestinian refugee, always taught me to hear both sides of an argument before I make my own decision,” Habash told ICB in a phone interview. “It became a personal interest of mine to find out more about Israel and Palestine and why things are the way they are.
“I really believe in education about the situation. Knowledge is power,” Habash continued. “Joining the I-Team has been an amazing experience that has taught me to respect others and their beliefs and learn from other students’ knowledge of the region.
“At the end of the day we are all people and have so much in common,” Habash remarked. “I wish there was a way to put aside the hate that stems from the conflict so everyone could get along and cope in a suitable living situation.”
The I-Team is planning an event that will bring together two groups from Florida International University (FIU), supporters of Israel or Palestine, in order to encourage the kind of dialogue that Habash described.
“One of the most important aspects of the I-Team,” Magid related, “is how empowered each student-member is to take leadership.”
Each team member has the chance to plan a meeting’s agenda, which includes inviting the speaker and determining what he or she will address.
“It starts with education internally and only then can we educate the broader campus,” Magid explained. “We look at it from the Israeli and Palestinian perspective and then we turn it into an event.”
Late last year, the I-Team brought Israeli artists to advertise their products in the center of campus. The event, titled “Israel@heART,” was meant to promote freedom of expression in Israel. Students interacted with the artists, enjoyed Israeli food and read facts sheets about Israel that were posted around the event.
“We used the lens of art to engage people in Israel,” Magid explained. “We created a fun, creative environment and invited people to join us. It was casual and people really wanted to be there.”
Kelsey Flitter, co-chair of the I-Team and a UM freshman, felt that “Israel@heART” was particularly successful because of the I-Team members’ commitment and devotion.
“The I-Team has attracted not only smart, passionate people, but a group of friends, who care about each other,” Flitter said. “One of the reasons Israel@heART was such a success was because we were able to count on each other--if not anyone else--to deliver [our] best."
I-Team members are confident that their efforts will pay off.
“I can already see that students are more motivated about Israel and it hasn’t even been a year,” Magid excitedly revealed. “I can only imagine how the Israel sentiment will be a few years down the line.”
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