American Muslim Elected President of J Street U

Amna Farooqi, 21, fell in love with Zionism after playing David Ben Gurion during an Israeli studies course.

Cynthia Blank,

Muslim women in Jerusalem (illustrative)
Muslim women in Jerusalem (illustrative)
Flash90

J Street U, the campus arm of liberal Jewish advocacy group J Street, has elected a Muslim-American as president of its national student board. 

Amna Farooqi, a 21-year-old rising senior at the University of Maryland, was "decisively" voted to head the board during elections at J Street U’s Summer Leadership Institute in Washington, D.C.

The child of Pakistani parents, Farooqi grew up in a Washington suburb in a fairly religious Muslim home, she told Haaretz. 

Although, she "had a lot of Jewish friends and felt connected to that," Farooqi noted, she grew up "in a household sympathetic to the Palestinian cause," where, "the Palestine-Israel conflict was always the elephant in the room."

Interested in "ending this conflict," Farooqi said she felt a responsibility to "understand all sides."

During her freshman year of college, she got involved with University of Maryland's J Street U chapter, began going to Hillel, and taking courses on Israel. 

In one class, Farooqi was assigned to play Israel's first prime minister, David Ben Gurion, which "completely changed the way [she] thought about this conflict," Farooqui said in TED Talk-style video filmed at the J Street conference last March. 

“Suddenly Zionism became about accountability. It was about the Jewish people taking control of their future after a history of being trampled on," she added, calling this the moment she "fell in love with Zionism."

J Street U's new president later studied abroad at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and traveled extensively within the Jewish state. 

Although Farooqi is very excited to serve as J Street U's president, her election will almost certainly prove controversial, particularly from parts of the Jewish community who view J Street with askance. 

“The election of a Muslim at the head of the most prominent left-of-center pro-Israel campus organization will evoke disparate reactions from conservatives and liberals,” the prominent American Jewish sociologist Steven M. Cohen told Haaretz. 

“Pro-Israel conservatives, Jewish and not, will see confirmation of their suspicion that J Street specifically and the pro-Israel left generally is actually disloyal and subversive, lacking true commitment to Israel’s security," Cohen, who made aliyah in 1992, noted. 

"Pro-Israel liberals, Jewish and not," however, "will see confirmation of their aspiration to reach across national, ethnic and religious boundaries to build a pro-peace coalition,” he added. 
 




top