At Brandeis, ditching sides for new Israel vision

A student-led initiative called bVIEW “aims to revolutionize and depolarize conversations about Israel on college campuses.”

Jewish students 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Jewish students 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Across the nation, students are on the lookout for innovative Israel programming, and at Brandeis University a new initiative may provide a popular template. Called bVIEW (Brandeis Visions for Israel in an Evolving World), its organizers describe it as “a student-led initiative that aims to revolutionize and depolarize conversations about Israel on college campuses.”
Although not a university-sanctioned club, bVIEW is working in conjunction with other Israel clubs including Brandeis Israel Public Affairs Committee (BIPAC), J-Street U at Brandeis and Brandeis Zionist Alliance (BZA.) The movement is led by a five-member committee comprised of two Americans and three Israelis.
According to sophomore Chen Arad, who is one of the committee members, bVIEW is “not about promoting an agenda or supporting or opposing one policy or another.”
“It’s based on the understanding that if you’re a supporter of Israel, whether you’re a ‘J-Streeter’ or ‘AIPACer,’ liberal or conservative, right or left wing, you want, to a large extent, the same thing: a better, safer, more prosperous future for Israel,” he said.
Committee members describe their mission as “first and foremost to create a platform for better, more constructive conversation between people who care about Israel by focusing the discussion on visions and the future. The goal, however, is not just to talk – a better discussion will inevitably lead to new innovative ideas and a more united effort to better Israel and the Middle East.”
About 125 students attended the bVIEW launch event last week, and plans are underway for a major conference for students from the Brandeis community, along with students from across the country, on January 27. Brandeis' president, Frederick M. Lawrence, has expressed support for the initiative.
At the start of the launch event, students were encouraged to write down their opinions of the Israel discussion on campus on large white boards for all to see. Later, leaders of BIPAC and J-Street put on a satirical skit in which they derided their respective groups, while eventually agreeing to hold an event together. The majority of the evening was dominated by the bVIEW founders discussing their reasons for starting the initiative.
“The fact that [bVIEW] promised nothing but a better discussion of Israel, and attracted so many people, is proof that the hundreds, if not thousands, of people who care for Israel at Brandeis are yearning for better Israel discussion that will lead to better Israel activism," Arad told ICB.
Students interviewed by ICB after the event expressed excitement about bVIEW’s goal of tossing away the rhetoric and polarization that often accompanies discussion of Israel. At the same time, however, some students expressed uncertainty regarding bVIEW’s end goal.
Sophomore Chagi Chesir said that bVIEW’s lack of a predefined agenda creates a fundamental problem. “If, as the creators of bVIEW claim, no agenda is being pushed, then what is the point of the conversation?" he asked. "Conversation is the means to get to an end. There is no clear end here.”
While other students shared some of Chesir's questions about bVIEW's purpose, most were not as critical of the initiative.
Gila Heller, a senior who has experienced many different types of Israel programming, explained, “I didn't expect to see anything substantive [at the launching event], because this is a brand-new initiative and I think we were all a bit skeptical of what it would actually do.” However, she added, “I was thrilled to see different students and campus leaders address the audience. It seems like everyone has grown weary of polarized Israel programming on campus, and we're finally admitting it to each other.”
“bVIEW is trying to change the campus conversation to a more future-oriented outlook," said J-Street U at Brandeis co-president Josh Berman. "Instead of focusing on past problems in Israel, bVIEW urges us to look towards the future and describe and enact our visions for Israel.”
Another student present at the launching event concurred with Berman’s outlook. “I believe the goal of bVIEW is to cause people invested in Israel to pause, look outside themselves and take a moment to ask themselves: Beyond the slogans, what kind of Israel would I like to live in?” said sophomore Eli Philip.
bVIEW's founders want to create change at Brandeis before trying to spread the new model to campuses across America. Speaking on behalf of the founders, Arad said, “bVIEW is not another Israel group because it is first and foremost students trying to unite the pro-Israel community through a discussion of vision, to allow it to better face the challenges Israel faces. It has never been done before."
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