Caravan for Democracy brings Israeli spokesman to USF

Arnon Perlman, chief spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, will speak at USF tonight in a forum to provide a better understanding of the Jewish state.

Perlman will discuss topics including the concerns Israel has as the only democracy in the Middle East and the relationship between democracy in the United States and in Israel.

The lecture will not only appeal to pro-Israel activists, but will also offer a more comprehensive perspective on the state for those who associate it primarily with conflict, according to Jonathan Franks, a member of Hillel. Hillel is an organization that aids young Jewish students making the transition to college.

Franks said he thinks a lot of people do not know enough about Israel outside of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“I want people to get out of it that it’s not just what you see on CNN,” Franks said.

The forum will be presented by Caravan for Democracy, an organization sponsored by the Jewish National Fund, Media Watch International and Hamagshimim, a pro-Israel movement for young adults.

“We don’t take a stance,” said Spencer Stone, campus coordinator for Caravan for Democracy. “We just seek to offer the views to students and university communities and then give them resources, through our Web site primarily, to make up their own minds about what they think.”

Stone said his organization offers lectures from multiple viewpoints, not just those supporting Israel.

“We also don’t seek to provide the forum just for pro-Israel students. We encourage dissenting opinions to attend the lecture,” Stone said. “The event itself isn’t necessarily geared toward Jewish students or just pro-Israel students.”

Stone and Franks both agreed that, as a democracy in the Middle East, Israel holds an important position in the region, Stone said.

“We feel it’s important to emphasize the shared values of democracy between the United States and Israel, because it is important to the United States to have an ally that is a democracy in that area. We’re here basically to show another side of Israel and its importance,” Stone said.

“It no coincidence why the two countries are such good friends, because they are the democracies and Israel is the only (democracy) in the Middle East,” Franks added. “They share values, and it’s important to let people be aware that it’s not just a coincidence that the U.S. doesn’t just take Israel’s side just to take sides.”

Leanne Milner, student life coordinator for Hillel, said Perlman’s visit is especially important because university communities often lack pro-Israel voices.

“It’s a great opportunity for us … to make our students feel comfortable that a pro-Israel voice is being heard on campus,” Milner said.

Caravan for Democracy and Hillel expect the event, more than half of which will be a question-and-answer session, to help promote an open dialogue about issues involving Israel.

“We want to raise awareness and critical thinking about the subject and encourage people to become involved,” said Hillel member Noa Michaeli.

“We’re not necessarily trying to convert people. We just want to give them access to the knowledge and let them make their own decisions,” Stone said.

Perlman, who comes to USF as part of a national circuit of lectures sponsored by Caravan for Democracy, will speak to students and members of the public at 7:30 p.m. in Marshall Center 270.