By Keren Shefet
Hillel students at the University of Pittsburgh hosted an international videoconference call last week with Amram Mitzna, a Knesset member and former mayor of Haifa. More than 50 students from around the nation participated in the discussion, including those from the University of Pittsburgh, Brooklyn College and the University of Florida.
Mitzna joined the students after a long day of Israeli politics. Each university was given numerous opportunities to question Mitzna throughout three rounds of interviews. Various topics concerning Israeli and Arab cohabitation were addressed, such as current concerns about Arafat's successor, Israeli politics and improving life for both groups of people.
"Israeli Arabs have as much involvement and impact as Israeli Jews," Mitzna said.
Mitzna also discussed the possibilities of Jewish and Arab co-existence and the differences between Israeli-Arabs and Palestinian-Arabs. Overall, the students were pleased with Mitzna's responses.
"The event was very successful and gave our students an opportunity to speak directly to an Israeli politician and to hear his views while allowing them a format to air their own," said Oded Frid, the Israel Fellow at Pittsburgh Hillel who organized the videoconference.
"For students who are politically aware and interested in making a difference on campus, this was a great opportunity to hear first hand from an Israeli leader who has been on the front lines of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," said Sarah Myerwitz of PIPAC, the pro-Israel student organization at the University of Pittsburgh. "The more informed we are, the more effectively we can do our job on campus."
Frid developed the idea for the videoconference while attending a national training program for shlichim (Israeli emissaries) sponsored by the Jewish Agency for Israel. Frid knew the significance of this event and jumped at the chance to directly engage American students with Israeli politics.
"Oded's pilot program has proven to be a successful model for other campuses interested in bringing Israel to their student communities," said Aaron Weil, executive director of Pittsburgh Hillel. "With a relatively small budget and a minimal amount of sweat equity, Oded has shown how technology can harness to bring students direct access to great speakers at a fraction of the cost of more conventional programs."
Frid's next project will be the launch of an "I for Israel" campaign next semester at Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh.
Keren Shefet is a sophomore at the University of Pittsburgh and the media relations coordinator at Pittsburgh Hillel.