Mideast expert Aaron Miller keynoting student Israel conference
Event drawing students from 15 universities
Aaron David Miller, a longtime Middle East adviser to Democratic and Republican secretaries of state will be the keynote speaker Sunday, Jan. 27, at a metropolitan area-wide student conference organized by Brandeis Visions for Israel in an Evolving World (bVIEW).
Miller, who currently is vice president for new initiatives and a distinguished scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C., served as senior adviser for Arab-Israeli negotiations and deputy special Middle East coordinator for Arab-Israeli negotiations, among many State Department posts.
His commentary and analysis is frequently featured in major print and broadcast media, and he has written four books on Middle East problems and American foreign policy.
“He has served under so many secretaries of state,” says Professor Shai Feldman, director of the Crown Center for Middle East Studies, “he is one of only a small number of people who’ve actually been there” during efforts to resolve the region’s conflicts.
Feldman said that Miller “is a very bright, very thoughtful guy,” and that his most recent book, on failed efforts to resolve the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians “gets at what made key people tick.”
As of Jan. 21, more than 200 students from 15 universities in Greater Boston, including activists in virtually all Israel-centric organizations, had registered for the conference.
While Miller, Feldman, Professor Ilan Troen of the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies, Professor Tova Hartman of Bar Ilan University and other scholars from the United States and Israel will speak, “the conference is completely initiated by students and it is for students,” says Chen Arad ’15, one of the organizers. Most of the talks will be followed by small group discussions facilitated by Brandeis students trained for the occasion.
“We are not trying to promote an agenda,” Arad said. “What we are trying to do is bring people from all over the map for a real discussion – which we think has been lacking – of what is wrong with the way students talk about Israel, why there isn’t a real conversation, and to move on from that to our visions of the future.”
Erica Shaps ’13, another organizer, has been deeply involved in Jewish life on campus during her undergraduate years, and is majoring in Islamic and Middle East studies. But until now, she says, “no [Israel-oriented] campus organization worked for me.”
Her friend Sarah Geller ’13 was president of the Brandeis-Israel Public affairs Committee, but she, too, despaired at polarization and partisanship of the numerous groups that laid claim to being pro-Israel.
The two women, Shaps recalls, were sitting in Einstein’s with Arad and his Israeli roommates “talking about Israel – what they thought as freshmen and what we thought as juniors – when the idea started churning.”
The idea – to change the dynamics of campus discussions of Israel – led them to form bVIEW last semester. After holding a series of well-received programs on campus, they decided to attempt the area-wide conference, which Shaps calls “the culmination of the beginning of this initiative.”
Shaps is one of the trainers of facilitators for the discussions. They are concentrating, she said, on how to create a safe, comfortable space for an on-topic, productive, meaningful conversation.
“We want to have a conversation that is vision-oriented, instead of stuck on traditional talking points,” she says.
Geller played a key role in securing the keynote speaker. She initially met Miller at a meeting of the America-Israel Public Affairs Committee, and renewed the acquaintance last summer when she had an internship – arranged through a Hiatt Career Center fair in Washington – at the Woodrow Wilson center.
The bVIEW initiative, Geller says, has given her renewed energy after her earlier disappointment.
“The goal is to bridge the gap between starkly different political views,” she says. “I really think it could make a difference.”