Jewish students from around the world, including some from CSUN Hillel, gathered Nov. 10 for a global videoconference with professor and former Israeli foreign minister Shlomo Ben-Ami for the 10th commemoration of the assassination of former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
The videoconference opened up with each country’s students introducing themselves and their Jewish communities. Students from South Africa, England, Argentina, and the United States welcomed Ben-Ami.
Six students from CSUN participated in the videoconference from a site in the Oviatt Library; Alicia Cohen, senior Jewish campus service corps fellow for Hillel, spoke as the California representative during the videoconference.
“I was thrilled we were able to have a global event,” Cohen said.
Three hundred people tapped into the conference through the Internet, and there was also a Web TV station in North America that broadcasted the event.
Ben-Ami was the official Israeli foreign minister from November 2000 through March 2001. He is also the former head of the School of History at Tel-Aviv University, and received a Ph.D. from Oxford University in history.
Rabin served twice as Israeli prime minister, first from 1974 to 1977 and again from 1992 until his assassination in Tel Aviv in November 1995.
Ben-Ami spoke from Jerusalem, and after his biography was read, he began talking about his personal reflections about Rabin.
He told a story of how Rabin personally called him with information to make sure Ben-Ami heard it from the real source. This was significant for Ben-Ami because he said it revealed Rabin as a man that could be trusted.
He described Rabin as “a sensitive man on the inside, but rough on the edges.” Rabin was actually shy at some public events, he said.
Ben-Ami said how and why Rabin was a revolutionary leader, and not just a normal peacemaker. He said Rabin sought peace by negotiating directly with the Palestinians, which had never been done before.
Ben-Ami said Rabin understood that if Israel was to have security, it needed to achieve peace first. Because of his military background, Rabin’s main concern was security, he said.
Rabin’s assassination was a major political failure, Ben-Ami said. He described Rabin’s death as a “national shock,” and that many peacemakers ended up paying for the incident with their lives.
After Ben-Ami’s personal reflections, each group had time to ask one question of Ben-Ami.
CSUN student Tal Liebercht asked Ben-Ami if he saw any similarities between Rabin and current Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, which Ben-Ami said there was.
He said both leaders have a military background and wanted a more political solution to peace. Liebercht later said he agreed with Ben-Ami’s answer, commenting that both Rabin and Sharon are military hawks.
Liebercht said he came to the conference because he was interested in Ben-Ami’s comments.
“It would be a shame not to come,” he said.
Hillel serves about 3,500 Jewish students at CSUN, and Cohen said many were in class at the time of the event and were unfortunately not able to come.
She attended the Global Israel Professionals for Student Encounters program in July 2005, where the idea of this event was introduced. Eighteen students from all over the world attended she said. She was surprised that CSUN was the only North American university to be involved the global videoconference on Nov. 10.
Liebercht said he would have liked to have a chance to talk directly to the other students through the camera set up for the videoconference.
Melanie Saxe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.