Israel 101 explores politics, policies, actions of historical, present Israel

Knowledge and context regarding the history and present of Israel were the foci of a lecture given Tuesday Jan. 31 by Larry Fine, the executive director of the Jewish Community Federation of Greater Rochester.

The lecture, titled "Israel 101," was conducted in Welles Hall and attended by students both inside and outside of Geneseo's Jewish community.

The lecture was the first in a three-part series, each of which will explore the history of Israel and the challenges facing the nation today. Special attention will be given to misperceptions regarding the politics, policies and actions of Israel. 

According to Kourtney Spaulding, the program director of Geneseo Hillel, combating these misconceptions is a major element in the importance of hosting such an event on campus.

"I think that a lot of people are not necessarily uneducated, but miseducated," she said. "The media puts a lot of negativity out there … A lot of people have opinions without having all of the facts."

Senior Liz Shenn, a Hillel member, decided to coordinate the lecture series this semester after spending her junior year in Israel. 

"[The Israeli-Palestinian conflict] isn't talked about, and when it is it's angry or emotional," she said. Shenn added that she hopes introducing a more rational, fact-based understanding of Israel to Geneseo would create more productive discussion and more effective advocacy regarding pertinent Israeli issues.

Fine's lecture used the changing physical boundaries of Israel as a means of exploring the historical events that have shaped Israel's national identity. While some students in attendance had visited or lived in Israel and had strong background knowledge, others were unable to locate the nation on a map. Fine explained that his lecture was directed at students with all levels of prior knowledge.

In his position at the Jewish Federation of Rochester, Fine has worked closely with the Hillel chapters at the University of Rochester, Rochester Institute of Technology and Geneseo. Speaking about his work with the Federation, Fine said, "One of the things we're most proud of is our strong support for Hillel at [those schools]."

A theme of peace was prevalent in Fine's lecture, both in his criticism of Middle Eastern nations that have refused opportunities for peace in the past, and his call for advocacy today. 

"I believe that the Palestinian people are a legitimate people," he said. "I believe that they have the right to life and liberty but not my land."

In regards to the responsibility of today's young adults in working toward peace in Israel, Fine stated that apathy is not an option. "Advocacy is an active role, not a passive one," he said.

He also said that several major misconceptions are especially counterproductive to resolving the conflict. In particular, the notion that "all Muslims hate all Jews" is false and harmful. 

"They've coexisted in meaningful ways in many places," he said.

 Additionally, Fine said that to question Israel's right to exist is unnecessary and poses an obstacle to having effective communication toward resolution. Israel's claim to existence as a nation, he said, is no different from that of any other recognized country in the world.

Hillel will host a second lecture by Larry Fine discussing the structure and challenges of Israel's political system in late February.