Peace of mind



September 14, 2017

Kicking off his time as a visiting scholar in residence at Columbia/Barnard Hillel, Daniel Shapiro, the former United States Ambassador to Israel, sat down with students at the Kraft Center in New York on Sept. 11 to discuss the U.S./Israel relationship and the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.

Shapiro represented the United States for six years in the Obama administration, leaving this past January. Before his appointment, Shapiro served on the National Security Council as the senior director for the Middle East and North Africa. Sitting down Monday with Professor Matthew C. Waxman, the Liviu Librescu Professor of Law at Columbia Law School and the faculty chair of the National Security Law Program, Shapiro highlighted some of the progress made during the Obama administration to strengthen the U.S./Israel bond and addressed some of the criticism Obama received regarding his relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“As somebody who was present on the inside and a participant in all of President Obama’s and Prime Minister Netanyahu’s interactions… I believe it is a much too narrow prism to look at it only through the areas of disagreement,” Shapiro said. “I don’t want to minimize it or suggest that didn’t occur, but at the same time as those disagreements occurred, the relationship was actually becoming much stronger in some very important and profound ways.”

The former ambassador pointed to the two countries’ security, technology and economic partnerships, citing an increase in U.S. financial support and assistance with the development of the Iron Dome, Israel’s anti-missile defense system.

After the talk, several students also stood up to ask the ambassador questions about topics ranging from the Syrian conflict to Israeli politics.

For four days split between this year’s fall and spring semesters, Shapiro will be in New York, engaging with Columbia and Barnard students on campus. He’ll also be visiting with Birthright Israel groups for 90-minute meetings and plans to join the Hillel’s student leadership trips for one full day each during winter and spring breaks.

“It’s an amazing resource to have Ambassador Shapiro here,” said Dante Mazza, a Columbia junior. “He has been privy to so many amazing, incredible situations and if you just take a moment to stop and think about his career and what he’s seen, getting to hear his insight is an incredible resource.”

“It is a huge win for Columbia to have brought him here,” echoed Columbia junior Hunter Stires.

Sami Frankel, a Columbia junior, said Shapiro was “a really incredible speaker” and that she really appreciated the opportunity to “hear his wisdom and about his experiences.”

She continued: “Having somebody who has been so much on the inside and being part of our community is a really special opportunity for us. Getting to hear all the things he said about his role in [peace] negotiations…is very encouraging to those of us on campus who are wondering how we can continue to support Israel and be active participants in the political process and in Israel’s support system.”

Columbia senior Yacov Lewis said he felt “really privileged” to hear the ambassador speak.

“I think there are a lot of students on campus who aren’t yet interested in politics in a substantial way outside of the narrow issues that they are focused on,” Lewis said. “I think he brings a great opportunity to students who haven’t yet developed an interest in politics to really explore it further.”

–Emilie Plesset