A symposium on the shared values of Israel, the United States and Latin America Tuesday strengthened a continuing effort to bring political and cultural awareness to campus and the world, organizers said.
The event, which attracted an audience of 300 people, featured panelists Miguel Rodriguez, former president of Costa Rica, a Shapiro Scholarship recipient and visiting professor at GW and Rafael Barak from the Israeli Embassy.
Representative Anthony Weiner (D-New York) was also scheduled to attend as the third guest panelist, but canceled because of late House voting Tuesday night.
The symposium, which was the brainchild of GW students Alex Berger and Peter Feldman, two members of the Student Alliance for Israel, is the only event of its kind ever co-sponsored by the GW College Republicans, GW College Democrats and student organizations from Georgetown University and the University of Maryland.
“Though this might be a little far-fetched, we’re working to bring about peace much like the State Department.” said SAFI Co-President Lauren Marks. “(The speakers) are working to promote peace around the world in places like Iraq, and we’re working ourselves to promote peace on our campus.”
The event began with an opening statement from University President Steven Joel Trachtenberg.
“This symposium comes on the threshold of the anniversary of September 11, a totally appropriate occasion,” Trachtenberg said.
During his address, Trachtenberg called for a moment of silence in reverence to the Jewish and Muslim victims of more suicide bombings that took place Tuesday in the Middle East.
Following Trachtenberg’s remarks, Dina Siegel Vann of the American Jewish Committee took the stage as the moderator of the night’s event, introducing the two guest panelists – Barak and Rodriguez.
Barak’s speech to the audience focused on the ideals of democracy shared between Israel and Latin America. Barak said the 1948 creation of a Jewish state in Palestine was supported by many Latin American nations, including Costa Rica, emphasizing ties Israelis share with Latin Americans.
“Several thousand Jews have immigrated to Latin America from Eastern Europe for various reasons,” Barak said. “Now they share in the democracy taking part in that part of the world.”
The second speaker, Rodriguez supported the deputy ambassador’s statements. Rodriguez spoke more specifically of the initiatives taken on by Costa Rica and Israel.
Costa Rica, a proponent of free trade, is presently working on trade agreements with the United States and Israel, Rodriguez said. Additionally, Costa Rica trades more often with Israel than any other Latin American nation.
“(Israel and Costa Rica) are friends and partners today and tomorrow,” Rodriguez said in his closing remarks.
Following their talks, the speakers answered four questions from the audience, including a question about why anti-Israel and anti-American sentiments in Latin America has continued to grow if all three cultures possess “shared values.”
Rodriguez said poverty is causing Latin Americans to question democracy.
“I have not seen scientific measures that anti-Israeli and anti-American sentiments have increased,” Rodriguez said. “But you must put yourselves in the shoes of common people from Latin America. Poverty continued to grow in the 90s, and they need someone to blame. They say ‘democracy is not working.'”
The program ended with a speech from GW’s Assistant Vice President for District of Columbia Affairs Bernard Demczuk, discussing how this symposium is a catalyst for GW’s new voter registration drive, which will push for all students to become registered voters.
“You will become the presidents and the ambassadors to create world peace,” Demczuk said.
Students in attendance said they were impressed with the symposium.
“Overall, this has evolved into something tremendous,” junior Jonathan Gordon said. “It is very hard to get unique perspectives to sit together in the same room to talk to students.”