Right-wing Israeli politician Effie Eitam joined a group of students for dinner in Slifka Center on Monday night to discuss his political and personal experiences.
Eitam, a member of the National Religious Party, addressed a group of approximately 30 students about his hard-line stance against Iranian nuclear proliferation, as well as events in his personal life that affect his decision-making as a member of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament. While coordinators said the event was intended to educate undergraduates on the intricacies of Israeli politics, students said they had mixed feelings about Eitam’s conservative positions.
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“It is a good opportunity to speak to young students in the United States,” Eitam said. “It is the place where the foundations of democracy were made and built.”
Eitam said he thinks it is critical for the United States to back Israeli calls for halting Iran’s nuclear program. He said Israel now faces its greatest threat in the Iranian nuclear program, and he thinks European nations are not treating the matter with an appropriate level of expediency. He also praised the current Bush administration’s support of Israel.
“The Bush administration has backed us politically as no other administration has in American history,” Eitam said. “President Bush will one day be seen as courageous for his support.”
Students offered varying opinions about Eitam’s firm stance on Iran, but many said it was valuable to hear his point of view.
Ari Evans ’09 said he was impressed with Eitam’s conviction and appreciated the chance to discuss the current situation with an active politician.
“Any time you have the opportunity to hear from a prominent member of a foreign government, it enhances the political discourse on campus,” he said. “I think it’s important that both sides of the aisle have the opportunity to voice their positions in a setting that is conducive to dialogue.”
Other students said they though his stance relied too much on military action in dealing with threats to Israeli national security.
“While I agree that Iran poses a serious threat to Israel’s security, I feel that we must fully explore other options, including economic sanctions before we resort to using force,” Sara Robinson ’09 said.
Some said Eitam — who is known in the Knesset for his strong pronouncements on the ideological divide between Israelis and their Arab neighbors — is too narrow in his view of Middle Eastern politics.
“I don’t know that I agree with his position that there is no possibility of reconciliation between the populations of the countries,” Bradley Gallagher ’08 said. “It’s not in the best interest of the Middle East to believe that the cultural differences are beyond hope.”
Abbas Hussain ’07 said he thinks events like this one have the potential to prompt discussion about divisive issues. He also said he thinks that no two peoples are so different that they cannot learn to understand one another.
“One reason I like Yale is that it puts you in a position to break down these barriers and get to know people as people,” Hussain said. “It’s good to have events that promote dialogue because it is through dialogue that we are able to learn from each other.”
Many students who attended the dinner said discussing these issues with Eitam gave them a better understanding of the right-wing politics in Israel.