Israeli ambassador to U.S., former Palestinian Authority prime minister visit Vanderbilt classroom

Former Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Herzog joined Professor Brett Benson’s Introduction to International Politics class last week, with Fayyad on Wednesday, March 27, and Herzog on Thursday, March 28. “I think this is the only university in the country that can host Salam Fayyad one day and the Israeli ambassador the next,” Morgan Ortagus, former spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State told students, as she led the conversation with Ambassador Herzog. 

(Ambassador Herzog and Morgan Ortagus)

Ambassador Herzog, a retired Israel Defense Forces brigadier general and senior military aide, has played vital roles in various peace negotiations with Arab nations for more than 30 years, including with Jordan, Palestine and Syria, and many other nations in the region. 

“Not everywhere is there a platform to exchange views,” Herzog echoed in his appreciation to the class for hosting his visit. “You can disagree with me and criticize policies, but I want to have a free discussion, and that’s not available everywhere, so thank you. “ 

(Former Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad)

Fayyad, a distinguished fellow in the Foreign Policy program at the Brookings Institution and a visiting senior scholar and Daniella Lipper Coules ’95 Distinguished Visitor in Foreign Affairs at the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs, visited the campus on Wednesday morning, interacting with students in several informal settings. 

“To move forward, we must trust that people are telling their truths and take them at face value,” Fayyad told students at an intimate gathering before he addressed the Introduction to International Politics class. “Nothing is gained by telling someone that their reality is not true. We can only make progress by trying to better understand that reality and finding goals we have in common to work together.”  

Students had the unique benefit of discussing the ongoing conflict in the Middle East with these two deeply knowledgeable practitioners and asked poignant, probing questions, ranging from Israel’s need to balance brokering peace with Palestinians and removing the threat of a repeated Hamas attack, to the role and effectiveness of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement, to Fayyad’s philosophy as finance minister and prime minister and how his belief in the rule of law informed his leadership approach. 

The two visits are emblematic of Vanderbilt’s resolve to advance its educational mission and promote civil, respectful dialogue across difference. “The opportunity to meet former Prime Minister Fayyad and Ambassador Herzog provided all of us incredible insight into their roles as diplomats and statesmen,” said Max Perry, a Vanderbilt sophomore who is also an ambassador for the Open Dialogue Visiting Fellows Program. “The conversations,” Perry continued, “provided a tremendous occasion for students to use dialogue as a tool to navigate difficult topics.”