Newly elected member of Israeli Parliament visits Clark

j2OWcR6lH2BfAFyRFUl745aDGXA6riJfLLsxHS0b53AOn Thursday, March 21st, Clark University was privileged to host Uri Zaki, a peace activist in Israel, and Tamar Zandberg, a newly elected member of the Israeli Parliament. Amidst the rising tensions of Apartheid Week and the increasingly heated campus debate over the nature of the conflict in the Middle East, this event, sponsored by J-Street, presented a strong voice for peace and justice in the region. In the late afternoon, concerned Clarkies packed the Lurie Conference Room for the unique experience of hearing from a sitting member of the Knesset (Israel’s governing legislature) and an active Israeli in promoting equitable treatment of Palestinians.

Uri Zaki spoke first. As a member of the Israeli non-governmental organization, B’tselem, he has been instrumental in bridging the gap between Palestinians and IDF troops in the territories. B’tselem, founded in 1983, has been an Israeli voice for equal social, legal, economic, and environmental rights in the Middle East. In the past, they have spoken out on the lack of infrastructure and clean water in the territories. They provide surveys and reports to aid legislation in Israel and abroad that support efforts for peace and two states for two peoples. However, Zaki noted that the Apartheid Wall he saw in the middle of Red Square frustrated him. He argued that, by labeling all of Israel and all Israelis as propagators of apartheid, Clark University Students for Palestinian Rights (the student organization responsible for the demonstration) reduces the possibility of meaningful dialogue and lasting peace.

After Zaki’s introduction, Tamar Zandberg took the podium. Zandberg was elected to the Knesset in the February elections as a member of the Meretz party. Founded in 1992, Meretz has stood as a strong left-wing voice for peace and social change. They actively support a two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and refuse to back down to the perceived misdeeds of the conservative ruling coalition. Additionally, the party has worked towards socioeconomic equality and freedom within Israel.

“Very few people realize that Israel is one of the only countries in the world in which Jews are not free to practice Judaism freely,” said Zandberg early in her presentation, highlighting Meretz’s efforts to promote social justice in Israel.

Zandberg, even in her short time in office, has become a national leader for gender equality and social justice. She spoke of her participation in a demonstration organized by Women of the Wall, a prominent feminist group in Israel. Led in conjunction with the Israeli Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism by Anat Hoffman, Women of the Wall takes action against the religious persecution of progressive and egalitarian Jews by holding demonstrations at the Western Wall, a sacred site for Jews from around the world. The Wall is separated into a men’s section and a much smaller women’s section. Female visitors are often surprised to find that their space for prayer at the holy site is vastly restricted and regulated by the ultra-Orthodox religious rulers. On Rosh Chodesh, the first day of the Hebrew month, WotW holds services in which women read Torah (Jewish holy scripture) and wear talit (ritual Jewish prayer shawls) in the women’s section. Often, women are arrested and penalized for their acts of religious expression. Zandberg explained to the audience her experience participating in this demonstration along with other female members of the newly-elected Knesset last month. Zandberg, a self-described secular Jew, told the group about how transformative this act of religious expression was.

The lecture was an illuminating depiction of the many domestic and international challenges facing Israel as well as the hope for a brighter, more peaceful future for the Holy Land. According to Zandberg and Zaki, Meretz and the emerging Zionist left represent a growing voice of progress and change in the Knesset. With their youthful energy and forceful passion, the two speakers left very few members of the audience unconvinced of their promise as members of Israel’s political future.