The American Students for Israel, a pro-Israel student group formed at the beginning of Fall Quarter, has attracted roughly 30 members to its meetings, which give students a chance to talk about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the Middle East.
Some attribute the group’s success to the current national entanglements in the area. Since the Sept. 11 attacks, many Middle East-focused UC classes have experienced an overflow.
Palestinians and Israelis have disputed the territorial boundaries of Israel since the state was established in 1949, but many Americans are still unsure of their position on the issue.
“I felt that Israel’s side of the story wasn’t being voiced,” ASI President and global studies major Joey Tartakovsky said. “I want this to be a forum for students to express their support, concern or interest in finding out more about the State of Israel. It’s an organization for those who share a belief in Israel’s right to exist in peace and security.”
The group is still recruiting, but members have started giving students a chance to voice their feelings about the conflict, Tartakovsky said.
Senior religious studies major Leah Manning, who spent the last year studying in East Jerusalem, stumbled upon the group while walking past the UCen earlier this year.
“I have so much to talk about,” Manning said. “ASI will show why Israel needs to be here, and why they need to form a positive and neutral relationship with Palestine. One can’t negotiate with violence. We want to tell the students what’s going on without any sugarcoating and let them form their own decisions.”
Tartakovsky decided to organize the group after interning this summer for pro-Israel lobby American-Israel Public Affair Committee. After working on a handbook for campus activists, along with planning and executing a workshop for students interested in campus activism, the plans for ASI were formed.
ASI has drawn students who have lived or studied in the Middle East and who want a forum to talk about their experiences.
“After studying in Israel, the [Sept. 11] attacks really jolted me back into reality,” Manning said. “Almost every day that I was in Israel there was an act of terrorism. … In Israel, if there’s a bombing, everyone still goes to work the next day, but it’s not like that in the U.S.”
Like Manning, senior sociology major Margarita Ferdman found her way to ASI after spending a summer in Israel.
“It’s so important to be a part of a group that talks about the Middle East right now,” Ferdman said. “[ASI] can give a voice to students who are passionate about Israel. While we are a pro-Israel group, we are open to all sides. We encourage peace more than victory of one side over another.”
The group meets every other Monday in the Roisman Jewish Student Center in Isla Vista.