Illinois representatives urge students to support Israel

Illinois reps speak at NU, urge support for Israel
By Sarah Freishtat
Published: Sunday, April 3, 2011

U.S. Reps. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), representing the 9th District, and Joe Walsh (R-Ill.), representing the 8th District, spoke to student leaders about the importance of the relationship between the United States and Israel on Sunday night.

Jewish student group Wildcats for Israel, which hosted the event, billed the speakers as an opportunity to build awareness about the importance of a strong relationship with Israel, WFI President Alex Jakubowski said.

"When awareness is built at a young age, that's when they really get it," said Jakubowski, a Weinberg freshman.

Schakowsky, who is Jewish, spoke about the issue of delegitimization campaigns, or the claim that Israel is not a state, in world politics and on college campuses. While this issue may not be obvious on Northwestern's campus, Schakowsky said, it is very present among activists she knows.

"All too often I find among people who I agree with on (progressive) issues, there is an anti-Israel box for them to check off," Schakowsky said. "A line, a clear line, needs to be drawn about the legitimate existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish, democratic state."

Walsh, who is married to a Jewish woman (though not Jewish himself) and is serving his first term in Congress, gave a fiery speech highlighting the "precarious" position of Israel's safety today.

"We are at war with a group of people over there and here that want to destroy this country," Walsh said, referring to radical Muslims. "That same group of people wants to destroy Israel, make no mistake about it."

Both Walsh and Schakowsky mentioned the importance of bipartisan support for Israel in Congress.

Schakowsky has been a representative for the 9th District, which includes Evanston and other northern suburbs, since 1998. She has been an outspoken advocate for American support of Israel and supports a two-state solution to end the Israel-Palestinian conflict, according to her website. While her focus in Congress has been on health care and senior assets, she said on the site she thinks the U.S. must take an active role in the Middle East peace process.

Walsh, a self-professed strong Tea Party supporter, is a member of the House Republican Israel Caucus. He said he thinks it is extremely important to support Israel because it is currently the only democracy in the Middle East.

"I am pro-Israel first and pro-peace second," he said.

Wildcats for Israel invited both Jewish and non-Jewish student leaders to the event, including the presidents of College Republicans, College Democrats, Rainbow Alliance and Students for Ecological and Environmental Development, among others.

"There are many people who have a connection to Israel, but they may not know it," Jakubowski said.

Leaders of SEED, for example, can connect to Israel's strong green movement, he said.

Following the two congressmembers' speeches, visiting fellow Oren Golan, who taught at Hebrew University of Jerusalem and is currently teaching in the sociology department, spoke about the differences between Israeli and American students. He spoke of the difficulties he has seen students at NU struggling with, including the different ways they can connect to Judaism or Israel.   

"I hope students will get a clearer understanding of the politics of support for Israel in this country," Walsh said.

Weinberg sophomore Joel Finbloom said the event was a good bipartisan description of the situation in Israel.

"It wasn't a conversation of debate. It was very clearly pro-Israel, but it did what it meant to accomplish," he said.


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