The opportunity to visit Israel is important when making policy decisions, said Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix, to a room full of members of Sun Devils for Israel Sunday at the Tempe campus.
Marketing senior Dana Richman, president of Sun Devils for Israel, put together the event after hearing Sinema speak about her trip to Israel last summer at an American Israel Public Affairs Committee event.
“It’s not the typical political event,” she said. “Sun Devils for Israel isn’t your general political organization. We wanted to merge cultural Israel with a political figure and be able to see how she was able to experience the land of Israel.”
Sinema spoke for about 40 minutes, giving an abbreviated version of the speech she gave at the AIPAC event. She discussed the valuable experience she had with 35 other freshman members of Congress in Israel and Palestine, meeting with important political figures and spending time at historical landmarks.
The Congress members spent two hours with Israel’s prime minister, discussing topics from the peace process to job creation and economic issues. Sinema said she was taken aback by the genuine and meaningful tone of the conversation.
“It was perhaps the most candid conversation I’ve ever had with a head of state,” she said.
The 36 delegates also spent time visiting in Palestine’s territory, escorted in bulletproof vans to meet with Saeb Erekat, Palestine’s chief negotiator. Sinema said while there was cause for concern in some of what he said, she was impressed at the level of respect he had for Secretary of State John Kerry and that gave her some hope for negotiating peace.
“(His statement) caused me to feel some kernel of hope that we can move forward,” she said.
Students for Justice in Palestine President Ibrahim Halloum said the cause for concern Sinema may have been speaking about is Palestine’s refusal to participate in peace talks after Israel turned down the initial conditions several times.
“The problem with peace talks this says is that each side wants to set guidelines,” he said. “Some of the guidelines that the Palestinians want are that international law has to be followed. Usually when there’s peace talks, the Israeli side does not accept those international laws. That’s why Palestinians are not in favor of peace talks.”
Sinema did not get into the details of what Erakat said, so it is not certain that she was referring to the refusal of peace talks.
Sinema remembered her first trip to Israel in 2009, when she visited a playground and was shocked by the fact there was a bomb shelter for the children in case of an attack. On her most recent trip she and the other delegates visited a completely indoors and steel-encased playground, she said it was a great place but was overshadowed with the sense of fear that the children must feel.
“This concept of children who live in a climate of perpetual fear, children who live with the hyper-vigilance of potential death and danger all around them was really shocking to me,” she said.
Unbeknownst to Sinema, SDI raised funds to help build that safe, indoors playground for Israeli children, and this realization created a full-circle moment at the presentation.
Sinema said after her trip to Israel her opinions hadn’t changed, but instead were cemented and have helped her articulate the importance of a peaceful solution.
“(The trip) allowed me to have concrete information that I can use to inform policy decisions,” she said.
Jakob Khazanovich, biomedical engineering junior and member of SDI, missed Sinema at the AIPAC event and said he was excited to have the opportunity to hear her talk about her visit to Israel, as he has been before and knows how important it is to visit Israel to have a full understanding of the issues.
“It’s great to have this opportunity for Congresspeople to actually go see (Israel) firsthand,” he said.
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