NEW YORK (Jul. 21)
A bi-partisan group of student political leaders from across the country left today on a two-week tour to learn first-hand about Israel.
The five Democrats and five Republicans were “drawn specifically from areas where there are no large Jewish constituencies,” said Shabsa Lis, coordinator of the tour and a representative of the North American Jewish Students’ Network, which is sponsoring it for the second year in a row.
“We feel that it is a priority of the first rank to sensitize a new generation of American leaders to the true realities in the Middle East,” said David Makovsky, president of Network.
Makovsky, who is also accompanying the group, added that “the only information that these people are receiving about the situation is through the media, which has failed repeatedly to emphasize the strategic and moral importance of the State of Israel as a true friend of the United States.”
While in Israel, the students are scheduled to meet with President Chaim Herzog, Labor Party leader Shimon Peres, several members of the Knesset, Director General of the Justice Department Simcha Dinitz, Bethlehem Mayor Elias Freij and Israeli student leaders.
URGED TO FOCUS ‘BEYOND THE HEADLINES’
At a kick-off luncheon sponsored by the American Israel Friendship League today, Uri Bar-Ner, Israeli Deputy Consul General, told the students to focus on the Israel that is “beyond the headlines.”
“Pay attention to Israel’s democracy,” Bar-Ner said, “to how a democracy functions after 35 years of a state siege. If I don’t understand the Coca-Cola and jeans, I don’t understand you. You will come to understand us by the pita, felafel and humus.”
Tim Van Housen, state chairman of the Illinois College Democrats said that he was interested in the trip because he “wanted to see a functional democracy under the pressures that the State of Israel is under.”
Derrick Spradley, a sophomore at Howard University and a legislative assistant in the office of Rep. Dan Mica (D. Fla.), admitted that he was not very knowledgeable about the Middle East situation and had no “pre-formed opinion.” He will be reporting his findings to his Congressman, who is a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and to Jewish groups in Flordia, which financed his trip.
The state chairman of the Mississippi College Republicans, Shane McMuller, voiced the sentiment of many of the students in saying that he looks forward to “not only a political and a cultural experience, but a religious one, as well.”
The students, all of whom are visiting Israel for the first time, expressed support for Israel and for the continuation of a strong alliance between it and the United States. The NATO allies sometimes give us the cold shoulder,” said Bill Severe, state chairman of the Delaware College Republicans, “but besides some relatively small problems last year, the relationship between (the two countries) is very good.”
MESSAGE FROM REAGAN
In a message to the students from the White House, President Reagan said: “Since the establishment 35 years ago, Israel has been a bastion of freedom and democracy in a troubled area. It is important for future leaders of both the Democratic and Republican Parties to learn the moral and strategic imperatives that underlie our nation’s friendship of that country.
“I hope that through this bi-partisan study mission, you will witness and learn of the deep ties that bind our two democracies and that through your enhanced understanding, you’ll educate other young Americans about the strong bonds and cooperation that link the United States with Israel.”