Burston Talk Inspires, Incites
Speaking to a group of about 40 students, Bradley Burston, columnist and senior online editor for Haaretz, the daily liberal Israeli newspaper, said, “You’re lucky to be living now.”
Drawing on the blackboard behind him to emphasize his point, Burston explained that in years past, opinion had been almost entirely limited to either pro-Israel or pro-Palestine, each in opposition to the other. Now, he said, one has the option of being pro-Middle East.
The talk was organized by WesShalom, a student group that advocates for peace in the Middle East, and J Street U, a non-profit advocacy group whose goal is to promote American leadership to end the Israel/Palestine conflict peacefully and diplomatically.
Although he was born and raised in Los Angeles, Burston served as the Gaza correspondent for the Jerusalem Post during the first Palestinian uprising. He was the paper’s military correspondent in the 1991 Gulf War after he moved to Israel following his graduation from UC Berkeley. He covered Israeli-Arab peace talks for Reuters in the mid 1990s and received the Eliav-Sartawi Award for Mideast Journalism, which was presented at the United Nations in 2006.
While the title of the event was “A Changing Middle East: What’s Next in Israel and Palestine,” much of Burston’s talk actually focused on Egypt.
Burston began the talk by describing a country where most of the people’s faith is in the military; where the leader in power received only a fraction of the people’s vote. When he asked everyone what country he was describing, “Egypt” echoed throughout the room.
However, Burston replied that while this did apply to Egypt, it also applied to Israel. Still, he said, many differences exist between the two countries.
“When the revolution comes [in Israel], you might not know it,” he said. “It’s not going to be Tahrir Square. It’s going to be people on a very grassroots level, each one connecting to something that resonates inside them.”
He comically described the prompt that would stir people to this sort of revolution as a “global ick” that people respond to because that is what they find most pressing.
“Israeli society is undergoing, against their will, the most important rebooting process in 20 years because of Egypt and because of the fear in the back of [the Israelis’] minds that everything is going to fall apart,” he said.
He explained that in some ways this was a good sign. If the Israeli people are worried about developments in Egypt, that shows that they are worried about Israel’s state of peace with Egypt.
Miriam Berger ’12, the J Street U campus liaison and a founding member of WesShalom, coordinated Burston’s visit to campus.
“His work expresses an increasingly mainstream view about the region, the need to move beyond divisive labels and to reconcile differing experiences and histories in a peaceful manner,” she said.
While a number of students felt that Burston’s words resonated with them, others found fault in his argument. Rebecca Markell ’14 disagreed with Burston on several points.
“I thought he used a lot of generalizations especially about the Right [in Israel], without backing it up with any evidence,” she said. “Also I thought he didn’t really know his audience well: when he said ‘Bibi’ to refer to Benjamin Netanyahu. I knew what he meant, but a lot of people around me had no idea.”
Still Markell said the talk inspired her to contact a number of organizations in an effort to bring another speaker who is more centrist to come speak at the University.
WesShalom plans to bring more speakers to campus this semester to foster further discussion.