Students Travel with Ambassador Kurtzer to Israel
Over Winter Break, ten Princeton undergraduate students and one graduate student participated in a substantive and meaningful experiential tour in Israel with former Ambassador Daniel C. Kurtzer. The former Ambassador to Egypt and Israel currently serves as Lecturer and S. Daniel Abraham Professor in Middle Eastern Policy Studies at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. The trip, conceived as a complement to the Taglit-Birthright Israel experience offered annually through the Center for Jewish Life - Hillel, was approved by Princeton University and supported by generous donations. The experience provided an innovative and comprehensive look at many of the complex issues facing the Israeli sovereignty today, introducing participants to influential politicians, activists and leaders of contemporary Israeli society. Throughout the fall semester, the students met with Ambassador Kurtzer to narrow down specific interest areas to focus the experience. The interest areas included in-depth explorations of the political, military and security issues related to peace, social and economic protests within Israel, human rights and Jewish democracy, Israeli law and its relationship to religious law, and Israeli scientific advances regarding the environment, water and urban planning.
From the relationships formed during his distinguished diplomatic career, Daniel Kurtzer connected the students with high level individuals who provided insight to the core issues. The trip began with a meeting with Dr. Donniel Hartman from the Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. He challenged the participants to approach Israel as an aspirational state, considering the future Israel is working towards. Students spent the next 9 days meeting with other major players and important officials including Minister Dan Meridor, Minister of Intelligence Affairs; Jeremy Issacharoff, Deputy Director General for Startegic Affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Members of Knesset Meir Sheetrit and Daniel Ben Simon, President of the Israel Democracy Institute Aryeh Carmon; IDF Generals Doron Almog and Eival Gilady; Shir Nusatzky, leader of the Social Justice movement; Daniel Seidemann, Director of Terrestrial Jerusalem and Founder of Ir Amim; Ziad Abu Amr, member of the Palestinian Legislative Council; and current US Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro. Participants also met representatives from the Palestinian Negotiations Support Unit in Ramallah, Israeli women actively engaged in issues of religion and state, representatives from both Peace Now and the settlers movement, and professors from Haifa University who spoke about the Israeli-Arab minority.
In addition to these transformative and significant meetings, the students were exposed to some of the more traditional aspects of the Israeli experience, including comprehensive tours of Masada, all 4 quarters of the Old City of Jerusalem, and the Israeli Holocaust Memorial Museum, Yad Vashem. Israeli families hosted our students for Shabbat dinner in Jerusalem for a sense of life beyond the political and religious and social conflicts. Throughout the trip, on the bus rides between meeting and visits, the participants were treated to the wealth of knowledge and wisdom and personal anecdotes of Ambassador Daniel Kurtzer. In the words of participant Gavi Barnhard ’13, the trip “instilled in me a confidence in the future of the state of Israel not only in terms of security and statehood, but in giving us a more complete picture of the tremendous accomplishments and developments happening at all levels of Israeli society.”