January 27, 2020

A Microcosm of Bipartisanship

Throughout the United States, people are engaging in intense and passionate conversations and debates regarding the political world’s current state. These exchanges have resulted in many heated family dinners and awkward watercooler interactions with co-workers. However, no one doubts these discussions come from places of concern for this country.

Nevertheless, this divide increasingly has made it difficult for dialogue and collaboration across party lines.

According to a 2017 Pew study, the percentage-point gap between Republicans and Democrats nearly has doubled in the past 20 years. In laymen’s terms, this means Republicans and Democrats have shifted farther away from each other on fundamental political values — which is known as hyper-partisanship.

The notion that a progressive Democrat and fierce Republican can work together and even become friends seems an unlikely one. Yet, at USC, this paradox is a reality. In 2018, Trojans for Israel, a historically bipartisan organization on campus, decided it was time to readjust its leadership structure to better embody its diverse base.

We two students, coming from very different walks of life and opposite ends of the political spectrum, were chosen as co-presidents of the student group.

Trojans for Israel serves as USC’s premier bipartisan pro-Israel organization, which promotes and enhances the U.S.-Israel relationship. As the marquee group on campus, Trojans for Israel has created strong relationships with locally and nationally elected members of office as well as with student government and campus leaders.

As leaders on campus serving as student-elected senators in the undergraduate student government as well as in the Chabad and Hillel, the two of us are used to working with people with whom we do not see eye to eye. However, we were daunted and slightly uncomfortable with the thought of working alongside a counterpart on the opposite side of the political aisle. We believed this decision would only lead to tension and highlight the divide among the bipartisan group.

“The two of us are used to working with people with whom we do not see eye to eye. However, we were daunted and slightly uncomfortable with the thought of working alongside a counterpart on the opposite side of the political aisle.” 

However, if anything, this move proved to unite Trojans for Israel and illustrate that bipartisanship can be achieved even in today’s hyper-partisan world.

Our organization has dealt with circumstances that bring out partisan conflict, such as when notable conservative commentator Ben Shapiro visited our campus to speak last October. Shapiro adamantly supports Israel and the U.S.-Israel relationship but has other opinions that made some groups on campus uncomfortable with his scheduled speech. Trojans for Israel prioritized the U.S.-Israel relationship over partisan opinions to focus on speaking out against the hateful anti-Israel sentiments and speeches being disseminated at the time, and showcase the importance of our bipartisan cause.

While the two of us essentially disagree on every U.S. domestic policy, our dedication to strengthening and protecting the unwavering U.S.-Israel relationship became the catalyst for a year of tangible success.

It was in keeping with the theme of bipartisanship that Trojans for Israel united with its crosstown rivals at UCLA to create the incredibly successful California Days of Action. Both groups campaigned for two House candidates — Steve Knight (R-Palmdale) and Gil Cisneros (D-Yorba Linda) — accumulating more than 200 hours of phone banking and close to 50 hours of canvassing. Showcasing the power and fortitude of bipartisanship, there were Democrats campaigning for Republicans, and Republicans campaigning for Democrats — all in the name of the U.S.-Israel relationship.

The two of us orchestrated Trojans for Israel’s meetings with a myriad of government officials including Democratic California Gov. Gavin Newsom, former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), Republican House Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb).

These accomplishments highlight students’ faith in the pro-Israel movement and emphasize the phrase “What unites us is greater than what divides us.”

Our successful year climaxed at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) annual policy conference, with Trojans for Israel being awarded Activists of the Year in front the nearly 4,000 students in attendance. 

The strength of Trojans for Israel is its emphasis on building a diverse bipartisan membership and exploring the differences and commonalities in each individual’s respective political viewpoints.

Trojans for Israel and the U.S.-Israel relationship are stronger because the group puts policy over partisanship. For the relationship between these two countries to continue to grow, there must be a reaffirmation of bipartisanship and a commitment to standing together on behalf of our shared cause.

Trojans for Israel and the pro-Israel movement as a whole highlight the substantial gains we can make by engaging in bipartisanship discourse. To solve the world’s most complicated problems as well as the simplest ones, bipartisanship is not a suggestion, but a mandate to which we must adhere.

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Shayan Kohanteb is a rising junior studying business administration with minors in real estate development and comedy (performance) at USC. Sarah Rose Ritch is a rising junior studying sociology and law, history and politics with minors in dance and criminology/forensics at USC.