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.