I f y ou’ve ever stood for a cause, you understand the importance of messaging. We, as Penn students, are still coming into our own as future leaders, and it is during these few and formative years that we decide exactly what it is that we believe.
In my case, the transition has been staggering. Since arriving on campus, I have morphed from a conservative activist into a moderate liberal. Having studied abroad, participated in several political causes and shared a campus with people of fundamentally different backgrounds and viewpoints, my perspective has undoubtedly changed.
The most valuable lesson I have learned is that no matter what we believe, it is crucial that we strive for objectivity and do our best to keep our beliefs in line with the evidence available .
To that end, I began working with a senior at Yale, a sophomore at Georgetown and two professors at West Point, one of them a lieutenant colonel , in order to found the Ivy Plus Leadership Mission. This initiative will serve as a pluralistic program aimed at introducing non-Jewish student leaders to the realities on the ground in Israel and the Palestinian territories. Twenty student leaders, including four from Penn, will have the chance to meet with top political, military, academic and business leaders as well as our peers in both Israel and the West Bank. We will challenge our preconceptions by taking part in conversations on the most sensitive issues with people from a variety of political persuasions, including those who are highly critical of Israeli policy.
The Ivy Plus Leadership Mission has four principal objectives:
1. To convey a nuanced understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the region as a whole by connecting high-level strategic dialogue with an exploration of the realities on the ground
2. To provide students with the tools necessary to formulate a coherent strategy for the United States’ role in the Israeli-Palestinian relationship and in the Middle East more broadly
3. To provide an incisive look into Israeli society, culture and politics, while simultaneously grappling with the unique security challenges facing both the United States and its allies in the region
4. To facilitate civil-military discussion and engagement
Several days ago, Penn for Palestine published a guest column publicly criticizing this mission . Unfortunately, the column did not hold itself to a high standard of objectivity and read more like an ideological attack than an informed critique. In fact, the column was based entirely on speculation, even going so far as to fabricate the actual itinerary of the tour (which we are still in the process of formulating). Platitudes, however, are never a proper substitute for facts, and if the leaders of PFP truly feel worried about the content of our mission and wish to engage in actual dialogue rather than conjecture, I encourage them to reach out to me.
My partners and I believe that this trip will serve to temper the polarized dialogue that currently characterizes the conversation about Israeli-Palestinian issues at Penn. Through the mission, we hope to create a space for nuanced discussion on the United States’ role in the Middle East. At its most ambitious level, this initiative is intended to act as a form of track two diplomacy, offering new perspectives not only to the participants, but also to the many government officials, military officers and business leaders who agree to meet with us.
Most importantly, I hope that each and every one of you is able to participate in the conversation that this initiative is intended to spark.
Noah Feit and Uriel Epshtein are a College senior and a senior at Yale University, respectively. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.