Israeli transportation minister visits GW

Israeli Transportation Minister Ephraim Sneh addressed Israel’s agenda of eliminating terrorism and reaching peace at the GW Hillel Tuesday night in front of 200 students.

Sneh, a member of the Labor Party, said he hopes Secretary of State Colin Powell can convince Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to accept American proposals of a cease-fire and help the two sides reach an agreement. Powell, who is set to arrive in Israel Thursday, is scheduled to meet with Arafat at his compound at Ramallah in the West Bank Saturday.

“If Powell can convince Arafat to change his policy, there is a glimmer of hope,” Sneh said.

Sneh said that ideally he would like to negotiate directly with Arafat to reach a resolution but cannot because Arafat has chosen terrorism instead of negotiation. Sneh is described as a liberal in the Israeli press and said in an interview before the event that he does not think the Sharon government will sign the final peace accord.

Sneh said that in the current situation, Israel needs the United States to facilitate a cease-fire.

“No one can replace the U.S. role of an honest broker,” Sneh said.

Although Israel has experienced terrorist attacks in the past, Sneh called Sept. 11 “a wakeup call for all of us,” because it is an example of how terrorism is increasing around the world. Sneh said he has implemented new security measures at airports, similar to those in the United States, in the wake of recent attacks in Israel.

Freshman Mark Blohm said events like Sneh’s appearance help students stay informed on the latest situation in Israel. He said rising anti-Semitism around the world, not just in Arab countries, has led many students to educate their peers on the conflict.

After graduating medical school in Tel Aviv, Sneh became a medical officer for the Israel Defense Force and later a brigadier general. Sneh retired from the military to pursue a political career, serving as minister of health under Yitzhak Rabin and also deputy defense minister before being appointed to his current position.

Sneh spoke briefly about the history of the conflict between Israel and Palestine before taking questions from the audience.

Junior Emily Barson, president of GW Hamagshimim, an Israel advocacy group, organized the event and said she thought student questions were respectful and intelligent, making the discussion successful.

“It’s important for Israel to have a voice on campus, especially since this topic has been heating up recently,” Barson said.

The event was sponsored by Caravan for Democracy, an organization that hosts lectures by Israeli leaders to promote dialogue about Israel and America on college campuses. GW Hamagshimim, Jewish National Fund and Media Watch also sponsored the lecture.

Sneh assured students that Israel would not give in to all of Arafat’s demands without negotiation. Israel wants to reach a resolution but will not sacrifice all land claims in order to do so, he said.

“There is no question about the survival of Israel. Israel is forever, period. Its not under any question mark,” Sneh said, garnering a loud applause.

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