Israel nation jubilation

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A dozen white tents on the South Mall introduced students to diverse aspects of Israeli life in the 13th Annual Israel Block Party. The block party, which Texas Hillel sponsors, aims to spread information on the culture and history of Israel and its people. Different booths focused on areas such as environmental policy, the Israeli Defense Force, humanitarian aid and religion. “We were aiming for a balance between educating and entertaining by hoping to demonstrate how Israel is modern and up-to-date,” said Naomi Gottesman, a corporate communications senior and a chair for the event. “It’s also a chance to advocate for Israel and demonstrate what Israel has contributed to our society.” Informing the public on the structure of Israel helps broaden public understanding of the country, said Amy Hendrick, a graduate coordinator in the anthropology department. “[These events] are important, especially in today’s world, when Israel is getting so much bad press, which is fueled by a lack of education,” Hendrick said. “People aren’t familiar with the history of Israel, its government, its policies. It’s a very liberal nation, and people just don’t understand.” A hookah lounge, Dudu’s Falafel Cafe and a performance by French-Israeli duo ONILI provided entertainment for the estimated 3,000 people who visited the block party. Politics were intentionally absent from official programming, Gottesman said. “It’s an apolitical event. It’s meant as an educational event for students to come and learn about aspects of Israeli life,” she said. Danish Syed, a math senior and member of the Muslim Students Association, said separating politics from the event was impossible. Members of the Muslim group and the Palestine Solidarity Committee protest the block party each year. Declaring their support for Palestine, about 30 students lined the steps opposite of the South Mall with banners that accused Texas Hillel of raising money for the Israeli army. “If this were just a Jewish cultural event, we’d be right there with them celebrating,” Syed said. “But the event is political by virtue of it being for Israel.” He emphasized that the aim of the protesters was not to appear disruptive, but rather to maintain awareness that two sides exist in the issue. “That’s why we have a silent protest,” said Mohammed Rizvi, an economics junior and member of the Muslim group. “We’re not really advocating anything. We’re just here to make sure our story gets told. Those voices we can’t hear from Palestine —­ we’re just trying to make them heard.”