Clad in all black, members of Hooshir, an IU a cappella group, stood before a lecture hall full of people and sang a Hebrew song, followed by the national anthem. Attendees in the front row mouthed along and swayed to both.
The songs preceeded a talk presented by United States ambassador Dennis Ross. The talk was broadcast to Jewish organizations around the country. During the talk, Ross said foreign policy challenges in the Middle East are more pressing now than ever before.
“President Trump faces a more daunting set of challenges in the Middle East than any of his predecessors,” Ross said.
He said these challenges lie in the vulnerability to the Middle Eastern states failing from internal conflicts. As these conflicts threaten stability, these states are more susceptible to Islamic State group influence, he said.
Even if the Trump administration succeeds in liberating these countries, the hardest part is approaching what will be left behind, Ross said. Even with liberation, he said these countries will still be left in a chaotic vacuum without leadership and stability.
“The Trump administration needs to ensure there is inclusiveness, security and reconstruction in the aftermath,” he said.
If these conditions are not met, Ross said confusion and attachment to the past will cause Islamic states to once again be vulnerable to organizations like Islamic State group.
As of now, Ross said the Middle East faces rising turmoil due to terrorism and conflicts between governments and rebel groups, especially in countries like Syria, Yemen and Turkey.
“And then there’s Libya too, but I don’t want you guys to go home and have to take some Prozac,” he said as a joke.
Alyssa Kirshenbaum, attendee and IU junior, said an understanding of this complex situation and the violence and instability people in these countries face is especially important today as misconceptions and prejudice against Muslim refugees rise.
“This is an opportunity to better understand the situation,” she said. “And that will help us be advocates for peace.”
She said while conversations about the situation in the Middle East may not be pretty, it is a necessity in making all people feel safe and accepted.
Sue Silberberg, rabbi at Hillel, said recent events like the executive order banning travel from six Muslim-majority countries and the recent bomb threats against Jewish synagogues are threatening this safety and acceptance even in the U.S.
Before the talk began, VIP guests gathered at the Hillel Center for a dinner celebrating Ross’s visit.
When Silberberg hit a spoon against a glass, guests donning suits, dresses and yamakas looked up as she welcomed IU President Michael McRobbie.
She said McRobbie’s willingness to stand up against the executive order and the bomb threats reflects the efforts to promote peace and understanding that brought Ross to speak at IU.
“I’m impressed by your willingness to speak out and stand up for what’s right and what you believe in during times that diversity is threatened,” Silberberg said, turning to McRobbie.
With a smile and a thank you, McRobbie stepped up to the microphone to introduce ambassador Ross.
“We are so happy to welcome ambassador Ross to IU and to recognize someone who’s career has spanned four administrations and helped promote peace,” McRobbie said.
As McRobbie returned to his seat, attendees bowed their heads to pray over the breaking of bread. After the prayer, they passed pita, hummus, carrots and babaganoush from hand to hand while talking about their excitement for Ross's visit.
“These conversations and events are what makes this campus such a unique and special community,” Silberberg said. “It brings us together.”
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