By Alyson Trager
For the Mitzpeh
J Street UMD held an opening meeting Wednesday to talk about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and how students can help the cause by becoming more educated on the issue.
The meeting started with an icebreaker and then focused in on the conflict surrounding the West Bank. Board member Mattan Berner-Kadish, a junior government and politics major, told the story of a man who built a house on the outskirts of his village along the West Bank. As Berner-Kadish looked at the beauty of the man’s home, he had conflicting emotions.
“We had just come from a talk with Palestinians…whose lives were made incredibly difficult by what [this man] was doing,” said Berner-Kadish. He called it a “beautiful obstacle to peace.”
J Street is a political group that seeks a peaceful end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and hopes that Israel can be secured as a democratic home for the Jewish people.
“J Street is an organization that…has been working to create a two-state solution,” said Berner-Kadish.
Berner-Kadish grew up with political beliefs similar to those of J Street, which is why he decided to join this university’s chapter.
“I wanted to remain involved and…continue to work on something that has been really important to me my whole life, he said”
At the university level, J Street U reaches out to college students to educate them on the ongoing conflict. The group uses grassroots tactics, such as these small meetings, to further the national organization’s agenda.
“[It’s] college students doing what they can on their campuses and being activists in their communities in order to try to push our…communities…in the direction of doing whatever we can to support the peace-making process,” said Berner-Kadish.
The group will have speakers throughout the year and hold what they call “dialogue with action.” Board members also said they’re always open to having one-on-one discussions with anyone who wants to talk about the issues.
J Street UMD Treasurer Mia Carmel joined the group after a push from Berner-Kadish.
“Last year I was contacted by Mattan and he said ‘come to the conference,’” said Carmel, referencing J Street’s national conference held in Washington, D.C. every year. “I enjoyed it, I learned a lot…and I’ve been involved ever since.”
Carmel expects big things out of the group in the upcoming year.
“We’re doing things like education programs, fighting stigmas about Israel and then also opening up the conversation between the pro-palestinian side and the pro-Israel side and trying to bring them together,” said Carmel, a junior economics and public policy major.
She thinks the group is taking a centrist position that’s relatable to other organizations across the board, such as Hillel, Terps for Israel and Muslim student groups.
“I want to try to reach as many people as possible…We would love to just talk to you about it,” Carmel said.
The group ended the meeting with a talk about the meaning of “home” and what feelings that place elicits. “A physical space that makes me feel comfortable…is a huge part of home,” said Berner-Kadish. They equated this conversation to how Israelis and Palestinians feel about the land being occupied.
Freshman letters and sciences student Hanna London heard a lot about J Street during her time in Israel last year. Her first impression was all positive.
“This was similar to the education I got last year…It’s kind of comforting to know that I can still continue that,” said London.