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UK, U.S, Colombia and Back to Israel

I have always enjoyed traveling and meeting new people. And my recent trip abroad did not disappoint. Spanning the UK, U.S and Colombia, I took part in a series of lectures to which I was invited, as well as conferences and meetings.

In the UK I was invited to the London School of Economics (LSE)’s Reappraising the Iran-Iraq War Thirty Years Later conference. The topic which I presented was Israel’s point of view towards the war. I also gave a private briefing at Chatham House, followed by numerous interviews at BBC Persian and France 24. The LSE conference was simply amazing.

This was followed by the next leg of the trip, which took me to the U.S. I was invited to give lectures at Boston University, Tufts University, as well a number of Boston and New York based Jewish organizations and synagogues. Here is a review of the lecture at Boston U.

This was followed by 5 days of meetings arranged as part of the U.S State Department’s “Voluntary Visitor Program”. The aim of this program is to increase exchanges between U.S and foreign based specialists. The local U.S embassy is in charge of nominating young leaders and politicians for this program. Numerous reporters and members of the Knesset have taken part. MKs such as Ehud Olmert and Moshe Katsav were guest of this program in their younger days.

During these five days I was invited to meet with Iran and Middle East experts from the U.S National Security Council, State Department, Department of Defense (Pentagon), as well as the Heritage Foundation and the Center for American Progress. I was asked to present my views on Iran. Much opinion was exchanged. I found myself being a true Iranian – Israeli, meaning polite and formal, yet very frank with a smattering of sense of humor. You’d be surprised how jokes about the residents of the city of Esfahan can be funny, even in English.

The U.S leg of the trip also included speaking at a number of conferences. One was sponsored by the U.S Institute of Peace (USIP). Entitled “Dangerous Liaisons: Iran, Israel and the United States”, it involved analysts looking at the point of view of each country. I gave the Israeli perspective (here is the Jerusalem Post article review of the conference). In conferences in Israel I usually give the Iranian point of view. This time the tables turned. I was also invited to speak at the 30 Years After conference in New York University. The conference was arranged by the U.S based Iranian Jewish community. It was wonderful to see so many Iranians Jews coming together and discussing issues that are important to their community, Iran and Israel.

The final leg of the trip took me to the city of Cali in Colombia. I was invited to speak at the Universidad San Buenaventura about the Iranian nuclear program and the Middle East peace process. I was also invited by Universidad EAFIT in Medellin, however that fell through at the last moment. Cali is the city where I first learned Spanish, so I decided to be brave at to give the two hour lecture in Castellano. I mean brave because one of my first Spanish teachers was sitting on the front row! I think I succeeded. That is not to say I did not have ‘a few kittens’ on the way (British expression describing the feeling of fear).

The Colombian students were simply amazing. They had heard of Neda Agha Soltan, the Green revolution in Iran and asked very sensible and well informed questions. They also have tremendous respect for Israel. I would say with much ease that I have never a met a country where the people are so respectful to Israel and Israelis and are so informed about the country. And much like any good friends, they respect, and question. I got the distinct impression that increasing number of Colombian students are worried about current Israeli policies in the West Bank, and the question of settlement expansions. They are not alone. The same applied to my observation of U.S students, including many Jews. I never heard such questions during my first trip to Colombia in 1999. It would be self deceiving to the point of dillusional to pretend that we in Israel with our policies are not distancing ourselves from friends. The conference was also part of a 10 day vacation there.

And now I am back in Israel. Exhausted after the long trip, but content to have taught and learned from my experience. I hope one day I will also be able to give lectures in Iranian universities as well. May it arrive soon. Amen. Until that day, Hatikvah, meaning hope in Hebrew, will stay with me and carry me through.

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Posted on : Nov 07 2010
Posted under Middle East |

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