J Street U, a national organization in support of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, will host its first Student Town Hall on the Homewood campus from April 5–7. Featured speakers at the event include Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Ambassador to the United States Maen Areikat, Union for Reform Judaism President Rabbi Rick Jacobs and Maryland Congresswoman Donna Edwards.
Besides hearing speeches from prominent figures involved in resolving the conflict, the Student Town Hall will offer a variety of workshops, ranging from sessions that explore the different sides of the issue to ones focused on developing the leadership skills necessary to incite social change both within students’ own campuses and on a national scale.
“The conversation [will be] about holding people to account, both ourselves and leaders who have serious influence,” J Street U Director Ira Stup said. “One of the questions we need to be asking is what is our responsibility and how can we translate that responsibility to action.”
Jenny Ferentz, the J Street U chapter president at Hopkins, noted that, while she hopes to see many Hopkins students interested in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and international politics in attendance, she is especially looking forward to meeting students from all 56 J Street U chapters across the country.
“J Street U as a student movement is very interconnected,” Ferentz said. “[The Town Hall] is a place for us to demonstrate that we want to stand united for something that we all believe in.”
Although the J Street U chapter at Hopkins has played a major role in planning this event, the event’s co-chairs are all students from other universities. Stup explained that the Town Hall was planned in conjunction with J Street U’s 2 Campaign, which supports the current negotiations for a two-state solution.
“Three students from around the country [were elected] to really flesh out that vision and think about the content [of the event],” Stup said.
Ferentz said that she is excited to show off the work that her own J Street U chapter has accomplished at Homewood since its founding in 2011.
“It’s just an exciting opportunity for us to have our voice put out there, [especially] in terms of advertising [and] visibility,” Ferentz said. “Seeing J Street U [Hopkins] evolve from when I first got involved until now and just how much it’s grown has been really amazing.”
Rabbi Debbie Pine, director of Hopkins Hillel, said that the weekend will help generate further civil discourse among students who have different opinions on the conflict.
“J Street U student leaders have done a good job of challenging all of us to talk deeply and think deeply about a lot of issues surrounding Israel,” Pine, who will also be speaking this weekend at the Town Hall, said.
Stup noted that both the accomplishments of the J Street U Hopkins chapter and the prominence of the University on an international scale inspired the choice to plan this event in Baltimore.
“It’s an influential and significant campus in general, and I think around Israeli-Palestinian foreign policy issues, in so many ways the conversation at Hopkins reverberates around the country,” Stup said. “We want to begin hosting national programs as much as possible on important campuses, and there’s a fantastic, strong, thoughtful and powerful J Street U group at Hopkins.”
The Town Hall comes at a timely moment for J Street U, as Secretary of State John Kerry traveled to Israel this week to continue discussion of a two-state solution.
“We are gathering at a critical political moment, and the weekend will give us an opportunity to learn and act together,” J Street U Deputy Director Sarah Turbow wrote in an email to registered attendees. “We will demonstrate to American, Israeli and Palestinian leaders and stakeholders that they have support in reaching an end to this conflict.”
Stup said that the weekend programs will offer an opportunity for students to reflect on their responsibility as Americans to pressure their legislators to act on this conflict.
“We live in a country that has a strong friendship with both Israelis and Palestinians, [and] that has a tremendous amount of political capital to make change on this issue,” Stup said.
Pine noted that attendees can expect to be challenged on their beliefs about the conflict.
“Many of us will go, and we’ll hear things that we’ll disagree with — it’s [an] important message in a university atmosphere that we’re not all going to agree, and sometimes the best way to learn is to hear a perspective that you disagree with,” Pine said.
For Ferentz, interacting with peers who do not share her exact opinion on the issue is one of the aspects she most looks forward to.
“Everytime I go to a J Street national event or regional event, I am re-challenged to think about why I support a two-state solution,” Ferentz said. “[Something] unique to J Street U as a movement [is that] there’s always room for major question and answer sessions and always a lot of push back.”
Other student groups at Hopkins have also been involved in the organization of the Town Hall. The Foreign Affairs Symposium (FAS), the College Democrats and JHU Politik all are sponsoring their own respective panels at the event.
Admission to the J Street U Town Hall costs $15, which includes all programming and meals.