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Former Israeli Vice Premier speaks to American University students

‘Israel as a Jewish Democratic State: Vision and Challenges’ lecture draws concern from student organizations

Tzipi Livni, the former Vice Premier, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Justice for Israel, spoke to American University students in a webinar co-sponsored by the School of Public Affairs and the Center for Israel Studies on Feb. 7.

Livni was the featured speaker at this year’s Amos Perlmutter Memorial Lecture, an annual event held to commemorate Perlmutter, a late scholar of Middle East political leadership and SPA professor.

According to the Center for Israel Studies, Livni is “known for her efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and was Israel’s chief negotiator for peace between Israel and the Palestinians during the last two rounds of negotiations.”

The question and answer portion of the webinar was moderated by Saul Newman, the associate dean for Undergraduate Education in the Department of Government at AU.

During the webinar, Livni said she decided to leave politics three years ago after feeling she did not have enough political power to promote continued peace talks between Israel and Palestine.

“This is the right policy for the future of both my sons, but also their generation,” Livni said. “I hope that the time will come and we will see this happening, because the other option, I believe, is not the Zionist option.”

Livni also discussed the “huge gap” between the state of Israel and its perception by the international community.

“For many years, the outside world is looking at Israel through the lenses of the [Palestinian and Israeli] conflict, [and the] sometimes distorted lenses of the conflict,” Livni said. “It also affects the situation in Israel. The nature of democracy, the policy of some Israeli governments affects the relations between Israel and the world. And I believe that we need to open a new dialogue.”

Prior to the event, AU Students for Justice in Palestine released a statement condemning the lecture and Livni’s involvement. As of Feb. 10, the statement has been co-signed by 12 AU student organizations, such as AU Pride, the South Asian Student Association and the Arab Student Association.

According to the AUSJP statement, when Livni was a “key” member of former Isreali Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s cabinet, they led a 2008 assault on the Gaza Strip called Operation Cast Lead. The operation led to the deaths of 1400 Palestinians, including 300 children. 

“We call on the university to cancel this lecture and to reckon with its unapologetic support of this settler-colonial and apartheid state, including the disproportionate amount of resources it contributed to an Israeli-centric, and anti-Palestinian, education,” the statement said. “Students for Justice in Palestine will continue to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people until such demands are met and the liberation for all Palestinians is realized.”

AUSJP did not respond to multiple requests for comment from The Eagle.

When asked where she draws the line between disagreement with Israeli policy and antisemitism, Livni said that while critizing the Israeli government is legitimate, not accepting the right of Israel to exist is “something completely different.”

“I think that the base is understanding that the Jewish people [have] the rights, historical tradition and international rights to establish and to live in the nation-state of the Jewish people,” Livni said.

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