Experts, students observe Israel’s 60th anniversary

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At GW, traditionally a hotbed of Middle East debate, experts are putting Israel’s 60th anniversary into context, saying that the U.S. has been an important part to the state’s survival.

Samuel Lewis, former U.S. Ambassador to Israel and director of the State Department’s policy planning staff, said at the Elliott School Monday that the United States is a key component to Israel’s endurance through several decades. “The alliance has become tighter and tighter between Israel and the United States,” Lewis said. “The U.S. and Israel began seeing each other as partners in the same struggle.”

Amitai Etzioni, author of “Security First: For a Muscular, Moral Foreign Policy,” said at the discussion that Israel has made great technological and economic advances that allowed the Jewish state to prosper during a tumultuous, 60-year existence.

“Israel has the capacity to produce an enormous amount of things for a tiny country,” Etzioni said.

Although the anniversary is an important achievement, there is much more work to be done, said Bernard Reich, an Israeli politics professor and Middle East expert at GW.

“The celebration is because Israel has survived 60 years, and that’s a significant thing,” he said. “At the same time, (Israel is) still at war. While some countries are reconciling with Israel, others have not.”

Although problems persist in Israel 60 years after its independence, members of GW’s Jewish community are using the anniversary to focus on the religious state’s achievements.

“This anniversary is significant because it is an opportunity to make a new generation aware that Israel, since achieving independence, has had some remarkable successes,” said Rob Fishman, executive director of GW Hillel.

Jewish Student Association President Ben Balter, a junior, is working with the Jewish Student Association and Hillel to coordinate a month of programming in honor of the milestone. The commemoration will include speakers, lobbying on Capitol Hill, skydiving and an Israel fair.

“Sixty years represents a great milestone reached against overwhelming odds,” Balter said. “Just think about the history that the tiny state has seen in its short life. It’s no wonder that Jews around the world, young and old, are taking this opportunity to celebrate something that wasn’t even tenable some 75 years ago.”

Israel’s independence is significant for old and young generations of Jews alike.

“Our generation has never known a world without a strong Jewish homeland,” Balter said.

Balter said young Jews can have strong ties to Israel through Taglit-Birthright Israel, a program that sends Jewish college students on a trip to Israel for free, and American Israel Public Affairs Committee, America’s pro-Israel lobby.

“A Brit might call England his or her homeland, but when the Jewish people use that word, it connotes so much more,” he said. “It’s not simply where our ancestors were born – it’s where we were born. It’s more than just a homeland. It is the homeland.”

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