Hillsdale College alumnus Shavit Rootman ‘20 represented his home country of Israel in a discussion about COVID-19 and the Middle East on “The Hill,” an independent political news site on Dec. 7.
“I was contacted, out of the blue, by a lady from the Israeli embassy who told me that she wanted to interview me. I was interviewed and then asked to represent Israel in this discussion. I’ve done a lot of public speaking for nonprofits and pro-Israeli organizations, but I still don’t know how they found me,” Rootman said.
Nominated by the Israeli embassy, Rootman joined two other college students from the United Arab Emirates in a historic, online conference.
Rootman explained that he was asked to join this conversation because of the Abraham Accords, a joint statement between Israel, Bahrain, the United States, and the UAE. These peace treaties, passed under Trump’s administration, normalizes relations between the participating countries. Israelis were now allowed to travel, trade, and communicate with the UAE — things that were previously illegal.
“This conference was one of the first glimpses I, as an Israeli, ever had with people from the United Arab Emirates,” Rootman said. “Think about that. Before these accords, to some people in these countries, it would be a crime to converse with someone like me. So it was the first time I had the chance to talk with people from the United Arab Emirates, and that’s mind boggling.”
In order to prepare for this historic conference, Rootman mastered statistics from the Israeli Department of Labor and the Department of the Treasury to understand how COVID-19 affected the current job market in Israel. Rootman used that information and his own experience adapting to a post-COVID economy to present the Israeli situation and offer advice.
“The job world for recent grads was completely stagnant last May. So I had to transition from asking myself what I wanted to do, to instead asking what I actually could do in this environment,” Rootman said. “I explained on the show that the Abraham Accords were a huge game changer in the Middle East because Israeli companies can provide so much technology, and there are actually opportunities to travel and work in other countries. People really just need to be flexible and open-minded.”
Speaking on “The Hill” and presenting information about the Israeli economy and foreign relations was something Rootman said he could never have predicted.
“When I got to Hillsdale, I was going into the pre-med track. But the more business and politics classes I took, the more I realized that my passion lay in doing something for the public good in Israel,” Rootman said.
Lee Baron, a chemistry professor at Hillsdale College, said she noticed something spark in Rootman after he took his first politics class.
“He was in the Constitution course with Dr. Habib and I just saw him find his passion,” Baron said. “Shavit was a man that did it all at Hillsdale. He majored in exercise science, minored in biochemistry and German, and took as many business and politics classes as he could.”
It was in these classes, Rootman said, that he learned to wrestle with deep concepts, explore them, research them, and eventually master them, which helped give him the necessary tools to participate on this show.
“It really mattered for me to represent Hillsdale well. I wanted to show that as a conservative institution, it does not brainwash you, but it teaches you how to make up your own mind,” Rootman said. “I was grateful for this opportunity to show that Hillsdale, as an institution, has great minds out there and that we strive towards the right things.”
Rootman was mentored by Robert E. Norton II, Hillsdale College’s vice president and general counsel. Norton said he noticed how much Rootman benefitted the opportunities at Hillsdale and how he attempted to help advance and give back to the college whenever he could.
“I certainly think he was always very appreciative for attending Hillsdale and was very respectful of it,” Norton said. “Shavit was a good ambassador of Israel at a time when the college was getting a lot more exposure to Israel, and he was a great ambassador for his country.”
Baron explained that this appreciation for Hillsdale actually led Rootman to his success today.
“I mean, who would have thought that this exercise science major would be engaging in major discussions about Middle Eastern relations?” Baron said. “Who could have dreamed that his ability to understand and apply basic concepts would lead him to his work now? He continues to amaze me, just as many of my students do after they graduate because they’re focused on making a difference.”
A difference is the one thing Rootman hoped to have made from his time at Hillsdale to his participation on “The Hill.”
“It’s not about me. I want people to understand how unparalleled the achievements of the Abraham Accords and the last administration were in the Middle East. It changed lives for Israelis and Arabs alike,” Rootman said. “And I want others to know how capable and unique people from Hillsdale College are, and how proud I was to be selected to such a global thinking event from this institution.”