Tzipi Livni, widely regarded as the most powerful woman in Israeli politics, spoke at Penn Wednesday night about the nuances surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and her work towards resolving the issue.
Livni, a major politician who announced her retirement from politics in February 2019, highlighted her support of a “two-state solution,” which would establish Israel and Palestine as two separate sovereign states. She also noted how she advocated for peace in the 20 years she spent holding government roles such as Leader of the Opposition, Foreign Minister, Justice Minister, and Vice Prime Minister.
Throughout the talk, Livni advocated for maintaining Israel’s identity as a Jewish state while preserving democratic rights of non-Jewish minorities, expressing her faith that a two-state solution could fulfill both these goals.
“Equality is also a Jewish value,” Livni said. “It is clear that the meaning of a Jewish democratic state means ‘The nation-state of the Jewish people with equal rights to all citizens.’”
Livni also shared stories from her time as a member of the Israeli Security Council and as a negotiator during various Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, expressing regret that these negotiations ultimately failed. She bemoaned the current state of Israeli politics, saying that many other politicians are too afraid of being called “left-wing” or accused of “cooperating with the enemy” to support a solution.
Livni added that while she does not know what she will do once she retires from politics, she hopes to continue advocating for Israeli rights and peace.
The talk was followed by a moderated conversation with Penn Hillel Executive Director Rabbi Mike Uram and a question and answer session with the audience. In response to a question from Uram about the limits of legitimate criticism of Israel, Livni said critics of Israel are not being anti-Semitic as long as they question government policies and not Israel’s rights as a sovereign state.
The event was co-hosted by hosted by Penn Hillel, the Penn Israel Alliance, and the Ilan Heimlich Memorial Speaker and Film Series sponsored by 1975 College graduate Lenny Gold.
Attendees agreed that the event gave them new perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“It’s not exactly an everyday occurrence that you get to listen to someone who’s directly participated in peace talks and has held such a lofty position in government,” College freshman Gregory Levy said. “My opinions now are a lot more nuanced.”
“I think seeing Minister Livni be able to communicate well with a group of young American Jews was sort of heartening,” College freshman Aaron Siff-Scherr said. “There seems to be a lot of disconnect between Israeli politicians and young American Jews, so I was happy to see that she was able to [connect].”
College sophomore Mark Lis praised Hillel’s attempts to maintain a nonpartisan position by inviting politically diverse speakers.
“I’m glad they have [speakers from] across the spectrum,” Lis said. “It’s allowing the conversation to be made deeper and [giving] people a place to express their opinions and ask their questions.”
Hillel Springboard Ezra Fellow Tal Edelstein added that he hoped the event would give students a solid basis of knowledge to facilitate open and productive conversation.
“You can’t have a conversation without having that initial thought. And these events are where those thoughts come from.” Edelstein said. “The conversations that we have [here], they aren’t the end, but just the beginning.”