Political science professor Mark Croatti brought 90 students onto Jordanian and Israeli soil Monday night.
Continuing a tradition he started in spring 2003, Croatti brought his students to embassies to learn firsthand about the countries from diplomatic representatives. The students in his comparative politics courses earn extra credit for attending the lectures. After learning about the recent history of Jordan and Israel, students asked questions about relations between Middle Eastern countries.
The embassy visits coincided with the class’ study of the Oslo accords, the 1993 peace treaty between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization. Croatti said he brought the students to the Jordanian embassy because the Bush administration closed the PLO office in D.C.
Chaim Weizmann, academic affairs officer at the Israeli Embassy, opened his speech with a short history of his country. During his introduction, Weizmann made his stance clear on the Israeli state.
“In 1967, the Israelis took over the territories and Palestinians lost their independence, right? No!” Weizmann said. “The Palestinians never had an independent state.”
Weizmann spoke for an hour on topics ranging from the Israeli diplomatic mindset to Tel Aviv nightlife, though he focused mostly on the recent conflict between Israel and Hezbollah.
“They (Hezbollah) don’t care if it’s a John or a Jack, a Moshe or Muhammad that they kill; they don’t care,” Weismann said.
Freshman Greg McKenna attended previous class visits to the German, French, Russian and British embassies. He said the experience at the Israeli Embassy was different from the other embassies because of the candid discussion.
“You could tell that (Weizmann) knew there were two viewpoints and you could definitely tell which was his viewpoint,” McKenna said.
The Jordanian embassy speakers did not express personal opinions on politics in the Middle East. They instead focused on Jordan’s customs and economics. The presentation took place in an auditorium where speakers talked about the country’s burgeoning trade, pharmaceutical and tourism industries, and Jordan’s assistance with training Iraqi police forces.
Jordan officially wants the creation of a Palestinian state as a solution to the present conflict and as a solution to the many problems in the Middle East, said Samia Kabariti, a Jordanian embassy press attach? who also addressed the class.
In the past, the Jordanian ambassador was available to speak to students but could not attend this time, Croatti said.
Water-sharing agreements with neighboring nations are a large concern for Jordanians, said Samer Naber, the Jordanian embassy’s first secretary of congressional and political affairs. Jordan was very disappointed at the recent breakdown of water-sharing talks with Syria, he added.
In response to a student question about Jordan’s inclusion of Islamic Sharia Law – strict religious rules about behavior – Naber said his government contrasted with Egypt’s strict prohibition of the law.
“(Rather than) excluding Islamists, the Jordanian government has always engaged the Islamic action front,” Naber said.
Freshman Chris Avellaneda said he was surprised at the direct answers given by Jordanian representatives.
“They didn’t back down from hard questions. They didn’t fully answer them, but they gave honest answers.”
Among the audience of students from Professor Croatti’s class was sophomore Adi Timor, a member of the student group The Middle East Peace Group. Timor is a staff member at the Israeli embassy, and aided Croatti in making speaking arrangements. She said she disagreed with some of the Israeli representative’s comments.
Timor said, “I see no reason why if we have peace with Egypt and with the Jordan, why we cannot have peace with the Palestinians or the Syrians or the Iranians.”