Contentious Q&A at Cal State East Bay

  • February 4, 2009

HAYWARD - An Israeli diplomat who visited Cal State East Bay on Tuesday to discuss the upcoming Israel election found himself bombarded with questions and concerns about ongoing fighting in the Gaza Strip.

Akiva Tor, Israel's consul general for the Pacific Northwest region of the United States, spoke to about 30 students, faculty and other attendees as part of a speaker series organized by the university's Jewish Studies Program.

As consul general, Tor serves as an adviser and speaks on behalf of Israel to his region, which includes Northern California.

"For those people who think Israel is evil, I appeal to you to reconsider your opinion," Tor said. "I'm trying to convince you that we definitely, absolutely, honestly want to achieve a fair solution with the Palestinian people."

After Tor briefly explained Israel's complex legislative system, the forum was then opened to questions from audience members.

Nora Barrows-Friedman, a reporter for radio station KPFA, at one point engaged in a lively discussion with Tor about Israel's actions during the current Gaza conflict, often cutting off the consul general when he tried to respond to her questions and comments.

"In our perspective, Israel is not occupying the Gaza Strip," Tor told her. "That is a fact."

Another audience member raised concerns about the perception that "Israel is killing children."

In response, Tor said he is confident that mainstream America understands Israel's position very well.

One student told Tor that he is "not dealing with what is happening" and is "only looking in your own head."

"It is my deepest belief that we are trying to reach peace with Palestinians," Tor replied.

Others who attended the presentation said they agreed with the message Tor brought to campus.

"His positions were clear and accurate," said Sean Teich, a 30-year-old San Lorenzo resident and a Cal State East Bay alumnus. "I understand that there is a bigger picture with the whole world in all of this."

Last month, the Muslim Student Association held a silent and peaceful protest against the Gaza Strip conflict.

For more information on the speaker series program, call 510-885-3183 or visit class.csueastbay.edu/Jewish_Culture_Series.php.

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