CAMERA-supported group University of Chicago Alliance with Israel (UCAI) held its first event after being established this past winter. The group’s founding means CAMERA on Campus now supports 61 groups across campuses in North America, the UK and Israel. UCAI’s first event featured Ishmael Khaldi, the first Bedouin diplomat to serve in the Israeli government.

Ishmael Khaldi speaks to students at UCAI’s first event. (Emily Kramer)

The CAMERA-supported UCAI’s declared goal is to be “an inclusive, pro-active, and pro-Israel voice that promotes open dialogue about Israeli history, culture, and politics at the UChicago campus.” They advocate “for the existence of the Jewish and democratic state” and “work to build relationships with various on and off campus partners in order to form a more educated and informed pro-Israel community.”

Ishmael Khaldi was born in a Bedouin village in northern Israel and began working for the Israeli Foreign Ministry in 2004. In 2009, he was appointed policy adviser to at the time Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

The Bedouins are a nomadic Arab tribe which live throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Within Israel there around 200,000, mainly living in the Negev in southern Israel. The Bedouins living in Israel suffer from extreme poverty, with 66% living under the poverty line. Unemployment is also an issue within the Bedouin community, with 65% jobless, the highest percentage of any sector in Israeli society. Therefore, Khaldi’s rise to Vice Council of Israel is fairly remarkable.

A traditional Bedouin settlement in southern Israel. (Alana Perino/Flash90)

Khaldi lived in a Bedouin tent until he was 8, growing up on a farm with his family. In the early days of the state of Israel’s existence, Ishmael Khaldi’s grandmother grew up with Jewish neighbors, and consequently knew some phrases in Yiddish. Khaldi informed the audience about the challenges and successes of the Bedouins in Israel. He expressed hopes that the Bedouin community will become more integrated into Israeli society, primarily through education and employment.

Khaldi also discussed the political situation in Israel, stating that the majority of Israelis support the two-state solution, and the reason for little movement in recent years on the peace process has been down to the failures of the Palestinian leadership. Khaldi also dismissed the BDS movement (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) as a threat to Israel’s economy or security, claiming support for the movement is loud but in-fact very small in numbers.

UCAI’s first event was very successful with a great turnout, attracting many new students interested in supporting an Israel group on campus. UCAI collected names and emails and have started to build a strong Israel community at UChicago. University of Chicago Alliance with Israel plans to hold another, more-informal event in the near future.

Contributed by Daniel Kosky, CAMERA Intern

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