At least 57 GW students joined about 800 other college students from around the world this weekend to learn about Jewish and pro-Israel activism at the largest gathering of Jewish leaders in North America and Israel.
The group of students from 10 countries joined about 3,200 delegates in D.C. for the United Jewish Communities General Assembly Conference, which runs through Tuesday.
Weekend speakers included Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, Israeli cabinet ministers, Deputy Foreign Minister Michael Melchior and New York Post columnist Daniel Pipes. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon also spoke in a video message Sunday.
President George W. Bush, Director of Homeland Security Tom Ridge, U.S. senators and other international religious, business and media officials are scheduled for Monday and Tuesday.
“The GA is a great way to make connections to national and international leaders and provides opportunities for future involvement in the community,” freshman Sam Cutler said.
Pipes addressed students Saturday on the dangers of militant Islam and how to foster better campus relations during current terrorism fears and how to promote better dialogue and relations between Jews and Muslims on campuses.
“Militant Islam has turned a personal religion into a political ideology,” Pipes said as he compared the extreme wing of the religion to fascism and totalitarianism. He said militant Islam started to grow quickly after the Iranian revolution and the rise of Ayatollah Khomeini, who led the government takeover in the ’80s.
Pipes said believers of militant Islam dominate some Islamic groups in the United States because much of their funding originally came from extremist leaders in the Middle East.
He suggested that campus Jewish groups look for moderate Muslim groups for dialogue on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and other issues.
Sophomore Ben Levy said the debate on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict seems to have quieted on the GW campus.
He said signs condemning Zionism and Israel were posted around the Academic Center last year and forums on the conflict turned into hot debates with little real dialogue.
“This year everything seems to have died down.it seems that in the wake of September 11, many of those who posted the signs are trying not to cause trouble,” Levy said.
Students attended forums on Jewish-Muslim campus relations, the current crisis, U.S.-Israel relations, terrorism and Jewish and Israel activism.
“I came here because I felt it was important to be involved in the Jewish community,” Cutler said.
Freshman Aliza Palgon said she is also hoping to learn about how to be more active in the community.
“I am looking to learn more about how to get better involved on this campus, and I felt this was a great chance to learn more about the Jewish community,” she said.