J Street U, the campus branch of the left wing pro-Israel, pro-peace political lobbying group J Street, announced on Thursday that it has elected a Muslim-American president. Amna Farooqi, 21, who was born in Maryland and will now serve as the head of J Street U’s national student board, reported Haaretz.
The vote was held at J Street U’s Summer Leadership Institute in Washington D.C. Farooqi was running against two others but won “decisively,” said J Street spokesperson Jessica Rosenblum.
Farooqi is a rising senior at the University of Maryland where she studies government and politics with a minor in Israeli studies. According to Haaretz, Farooqi grew up in a “fairly religious Muslim home” in the Washington suburb of Potomac, which has a strong Jewish community. At a J Street conference in March, Farooqi who grew up in a pro-Palestinian household, said: “[The Palestinian-Israeli] conflict evoked a level of anger and emotion in me and I needed to learn more. Everything I was learning about the conflict made me not want to be pro-Israel… As someone who wanted to contribute to ending this conflict I knew I needed to understand all sides.”
In one of her Israeli studies classes that she reportedly “fell in love with Zionism” when she learned it was about “the Jewish people taking control of their future after a history of being trampled on.”
She continued: “I fell in love with Zionism, because Zionism became about taking ownership over the story of one’s people. If Zionism is about owning your future, how can I not respect that?”
Over time, Farooqi got more and more involved with the J Street U chapter at the University of Maryland. She spent a semester abroad in Israel studying at Hebrew University as part of an international student exchange program. And she returned to Israel this summer to intern at J Street U in Jerusalem, leading day trips for American students who were visiting the Holy Land. Shortly following her return, she was elected president of the organization.
“I am so excited to serve as J Street U’s president,” Farooqi told Haaretz. “I’m very excited for the next year.”
Traditionally, J Street’s liberal-minded activities are controversial among the conservative, pro-Israel crowd, partly due to its alleged support of the Goldstone Report, which falsely indicted the IDF of committing war crimes in the 2009 Gaza War, as well as its alleged support for the BDS movement, which the organization flatly denies. Haaretz contibutor Samuel Heilman pointed out that the election of a Muslim J Street president to its student branch is likely to cause a stir, but he also believes her election could communicate an positive message:
…having an openly identifying Muslim representing a college Zionist organization certainly challenges those Islamists and boycott, divestment and sanction movement supporters who wrong-headedly claim that Zionism, contemporary Israel and Islam are necessarily in conflict if not diametrically opposed to one another.
Here is Farooqi’s speech from the March J Street U conference:
Jas Chana is a former intern at Tablet.