Established 1874.

The Oberlin Review

Established 1874.

The Oberlin Review

Established 1874.

The Oberlin Review

Academic Departments Host Journalists to Educate on Israel–Palestine Conflict

On Friday, Feb. 16 and Tuesday, Feb. 20, the first two webinars of a four-part series titled “Covering the Israel–Hamas War and its U.S. Impacts” took place over Zoom.

The webinars are organized by the Middle East and North Africa Studies and Jewish Studies departments, and sponsored by the Politics and History Departments and the Journalism Integrative Concentration. Each webinar centers around a Q&A with a journalist who has written on topics relating to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. The journalists featured write for The Wall Street Journal, HuffPost, Jewish Currents, and The New York Times Magazine. 

“We wanted to show the students that we, the MENA program and Jewish Studies Program, are a united front, in that we share the same ideas, we share the same values, and the same perspective on the conflict,” Professor of History and Chair of International Affairs Zeinab Abul-Magd, who helped organize the event, said. 

One of the central purposes of the webinar series, according to Matthew Berkman, assistant professor of Jewish Studies and a primary organizer of the event, is to educate students on the events happening.

“I want people to learn basic facts,” Berkman said. “I want them to hear different perspectives, new aspects of American politics that they perhaps are not really familiar with, and I want to get some of these specialists to articulate their niche expertise in a way that’s accessible to people who have no background.”

Berkman explained that he chose to have the webinars focus on journalists from a variety of publications in order to get a comprehensive view of the events, as opposed to an in-depth political analysis.

“If we want to know what’s going on right now, you have to talk to people who are covering aspects of it on the ground,” Berkman said. “So we thought the journalists would be the best people to turn to.”

The first webinar centered around Jared Malsin, a Middle East correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, and his experience and knowledge from covering the war. Malsin is based in Istanbul, from where he covers Middle Eastern affairs. Malsin traveled to Israel directly after Hamas’s attack on Oct. 7 and had previously worked for two and a half years for a Palestinian agency in the West Bank.

The webinar began with an overview of the situation along the Gaza–Israel border prior to the Oct. 7 attack. In response to a series of questions posed primarily by Berkman, Malsin outlined the history of Hamas, the four wars since 2008 that have preceded this one, and how Gaza had faded from Israeli and international consciousness.

The focus then moved to the situation post-Oct. 7 and the impact on Gazan people, addressing the rising death toll and the current situation in Rafah before raising the question of what an end to the war might look like. When asked about public opinion on each side, he answered that while Israelis have broadly been in support of the war, there has been a rising pressure to negotiate to free hostages. In terms of Gazan public opinion, he explained that in his experience, most Gazans are simply thinking in terms of survival, rather than in political terms. 

“That is what I hear from people every day in Gaza: ‘We are terrified, we need help,’” Malsin said in the webinar. He added that in the West Bank, on the other hand, polling has shown that Hamas has grown more popular since the start of the war.

The webinar concluded with questions from students, covering Malsin’s experience with misinformation and bias around this topic, his own experience reporting for a Palestinian company during the 2008–2009 war in Gaza, and thoughts on the future. 

Tuesday’s webinar was with Akbar Shahid Ahmed, senior diplomatic correspondent at HuffPost, and centered around the issue of the U.S.’ and Biden’s response to the conflict.

Similarly to the first webinar, this one began on the topic of history prior to Oct. 7, with a focus on U.S.–Israel ties. Ahmed discussed former President Trump’s appointment of people with connections to Israel’s far-right, and President Biden’s handling of a small war in 2021. The questions shifted to the U.S.’ response after Hamas’s attack, beginning with an immediate response of what Ahmed described as unchecked support for Israel.

Over the course of the hour, Ahmed went on to cover discontent and disagreement within the Democratic party and government bureaucracies over the U.S.’ stance on the war, how the conflict will affect the 2024 presidential election, and how a second Trump term could shape U.S. relations with Israel. 

Questions from students included what the international view of the United States and their response looks like, how conflict might spill over into Lebanon, and the chances of a rift in relations between the United States and Israel.

Berkman expressed some unease about the possibility of discussions around such a sensitive topic being misrepresented.

“I worry about people recording parts of the webinar and clipping it, to present things that speakers or I as the questioner might say in a negative light,” Berkman said. “But ultimately, you can’t let that determine what you do. You have to educate the students. That’s what your job is.” 

“Having a series of events on such a fluid topic that is still ongoing and that is also a sensitive topic, is not easy,” Abul-Magd said. “But I think this is a service that we needed to do for our students.”

Forty people attended the first webinar, and 30 the second, according to Berkman. The last two webinars will take place on March 1 and March 8.

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