Israeli speaker discusses nation’s complexity

Nicole Robinson

For some people, discussing where they are from can lead to a lot of different things. Sometimes this means expressing mixed feelings about what we consider to be our homes.

But for Itai Tennenbaum, talking about home is as complex as explaining one of the world’s most volatile socio-political issues.

Tennenbaum spoke in Phillips Hall Monday night about the nation-state of Israel, from its conception in 1948 to its current state of affairs.

“Israel is a thriving, dynamic democracy,” Tennenbaum said. “You only need to turn on the news to see that there is a very strong sense of identity for Israelis that is a result of a lot of different factors.”

Tennenbaum represents Israel in the Twin Cities as the emissary for the Jewish Agency for Israel. He has been based in Minneapolis since 2002.

His presentation addressed a number of issues facing the state of Israel, from historic cultural identity to its complex role in global politics.

Born in Tel Aviv, Tennenbaum moved to the United States when he was 10 years old. He moved back to Israel to serve in the military for three years.

Tennenbaum summarized his objectives as trying to help people visualize the state of affairs in Israel.

“I want you to put yourself in the mind of someone living in Israel,” Tennenbaum said. “It is difficult to look at the issue from every side. But the reality is that this is an issue of people trying to coexist amidst very difficult pressures.”

Senior Ashley Wong felt Tennenbaum’s presentation helped illustrate the complexity of the issue without forcing a perspective.

“He did a good job of expressing his opinion, and explaining that you don’t have to agree,” Wong said. “That’s the point. You don’t have to agree.”

The complex history of events surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, however, is as difficult to condense as it is to explain without taking sides, Tennenbaum said.

“I want to explain the heart and soul of the Israeli people,” Tennenbaum said. “But in all honesty, I can’t speak on behalf of all Israelis because there are many diverse opinions in Israel.”

Tennenbaum believes in what he calls “a faith in democracy”– an expression he said represents Israel’s true character.

When asked how he feels about the public’s perception of the events between Israel and the Arab world, Tennebaum said pursuing information is the public’s greatest chance of understanding an often over-simplified topic.

“I think there is a very positive amount of focus being given to the subject,” Tennenbaum said. “I think people need to just realize the importance of figuring out for themselves what is going on.”