PLO Representative at BJPA: “Don’t Blindly Support Israel”

(Cross-posted at Jewschool.)

by Aimee Gonzalez

The Berman Jewish Policy Archive @ NYU Wagner hosted PLO Representative Maen Areikat at a luncheon on March 2nd to discuss the role of American Jews in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

A mix of professors, students, Jewish communal leaders, journalists and others came to listen to Representative Areikat discuss the situation between the Palestinian leadership and the Israeli government, and what needs to happen for the peace process to move forward. As the JTA noted, this appearance is part of a larger effort on the part of the PLO “to open dialogue with the Jewish community.”

“Time is not on either side,” said Areikat, but he emphasized that it is of the essence. He stated that Israel has the opportunity to work with a willing Palestinian government who is committed to peace. Palestinians are frustrated, however, with the fact that Israel continues to build settlements while also claiming to want peace, he said. Areikat held firmly to the stance that “peace negotiations and settlements cannot go hand in hand” and contended that it is necessary to find a new approach.

Perhaps a new approach is on its way; in an article about the event, Haaretz noted that Prime Minister Netanyahu “is considering a plan to cooperate with the Palestinians on the establishment of a Palestinian state with temporary borders, as part of an interim peace agreement”. As that story had not yet broken widely in America while the event proceeded, no one asked Ambassador Areikat during the Q&A whether this idea would be acceptable to the PLO.

This discussion built up to the main point of the event—what American Jews should do. On this Areikat was clear: “Don’t blindly just support Israel. Do not abandon [it], but…look beyond tomorrow.” Practically speaking, he stated that American Jews should support their government’s efforts to end this conflict. Many Jews are reluctant to criticize Israel or support anyone who does, he argued, but a successful peace process requires recognizing positive steps from both sides, and condemning those who won’t cooperate—including Israelis.

The Jewish leaders in the audience for this event showed no signs of “blindly” supporting Israel. Every Jewish questioner during the Q&A voiced support for a Palestinian State. This may be because those who chose to attend this event were those who were most inclined to this position, but it may also indicate how marginal the position against Palestinian self-determination has become in contemporary American Jewish discourse. A few decades ago, opposition to any form of Palestinian nationalism was well within the American Jewish mainstream (see this piece by Avraham Weiss, and this by Richard Cohen). But at Wednesday’s event, this perspective was not evident.

The content of the discussion was hardly surprising, but the fact of the discussion is still noteworthy. While the event began with the formality of a diplomatic speech, by the end, when the Q&A broke down the wall between speaker and audience, it was a lively conversation over lunch.

Watch the video below:


Video streaming by Ustream

PLO Representative Maen Areikat at BJPA

3-10-11 Edited to add: You can watch the ustream version below, with ads, or find the ad free version in our collection.  NYU Wagner has also made a podcast available.

On Wednesday March 2, 12:15 PM, the Berman Jewish Policy Archive @ NYU Wagner and the Taub Center for Israel Studies at New York University will offer a "live stream" of an invitation-only talk with Ambassador Maen Rashid Areikat, Chief PLO Representative to the United States.

Entitled "The Palestinians and the American Jewish Community: A Challenging Relationship," the presentation will take place in front of a live audience of professors, students, Jewish communal leaders, journalists, and others. To see and hear this remarkable event, come back to this post, or go straight to ustream.tv: http://www.ustream.tv/channel/ambassador-areikat

(Please note: Ustream shows about 30 seconds of advertising before beginning to stream the event, so please allow time for that. After that, it is possible to close the ad that appears along the bottom of the screen).


Video streaming by Ustream

"The Palestinians and the American Jewish Community: A Challenging Relationship" Presented by the Berman Jewish Policy Archive @ NYU Wagner and the Taub Center for Israel Studies at New York University.

Wednesday March 2, 12:15pm EST. 

The Ambassador will engage with a diverse representation of people highly involved in Jewish communal life or in the academic study of Israel and the Middle East. Clearly, questions pertaining to the American Jewish relationship with Israel are high on the American Jewish communal policy agenda and the Ambassador will address one component of this relationship. This event, in line with the missions of the Berman Jewish Policy Archive at NYU Wagner and the Taub Center, seeks to elevate and inform discourse on Jewish communal policy. Ahead of the event, you may wish to read Mr. Areikat’s interview with David Samuels, published in Tablet Magazine.

Maen Rashid Areikat, PLO Representative to the United States

**************************************

Maen Rashid Areikat was born October 12, 1960 in Jericho in the occupied West Bank. Prior to his appointment to Washington, Mr. Areikat served for 11 years at the Negotiations Affairs Department (NAD) of the PLO in Ramallah, most recently as its Deputy Head and Coordinator-General (2008-2009). Mr. Areikat first joined NAD in 1998, when it was headed by current Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), and served as its Director-General until March 2008. In addition to overseeing NAD’s day-to-day operations, Mr. Areikat was responsible for overseeing the work of the Negotiations Support Unit (NSU), which provides legal, policy, communication and technical support to Palestinian Negotiating Teams and to the Palestinian Leadership.

Prior to his service at NAD, Mr. Areikat spent five years at Orient House (1993-1998), the headquarters of the PLO in Jerusalem and of the Palestinian Negotiating Team to the Madrid peace talks. While at Orient House, he served as spokesperson for the late Mr. Faisal Husseini, former PLO Executive Committee member in charge of Jerusalem Affairs, and later as Desk Officer for the U.S., Canada, Australia and South Africa in Orient House’s International Relations Department. Mr. Areikat previously took part in Palestinian-Israeli negotiations at Beit Hanoun in Gaza and Taba in Egypt in 1996, in Jerusalem in 1997 and was an official member of the Palestinian delegation to the Wye River negotiations in 1998.

During the course of his career, Mr. Areikat has traveled extensively throughout the region and abroad, including numerous official visits to Washington, DC and several European capitals, and has participated in various conferences and symposiums on the Middle East peace process and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Mr. Areikat earned his Bachelor of Science in Finance from Arizona State University (ASU) in 1983 and his MBA in management from Western International University in 1987. He received his diplomatic training at the Ministry of External Affairs in Ottawa, Canada in 1993 and 1994, and completed a training course in good governance at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in 2001.

"Resisting Re-ghettoization" Recap

Wagner Today, the student blog of NYU Wagner, provides a useful summary of yesterday's BJPA roundtable ("Resisting Re-ghettoization: From Without and Within") with journalist Yossi Klein Halevi:

The great post-Holocaust achievements were power and integration into the world community (and for American Jewry, the public space). Now both those achievements are under assault -- from without and from within. The legitimacy of Jewish power is questioned not only by the UN Human Rights Council, but also by increasing numbers of Jews. The integration of Jews into the world community is also under assault from without and within -- the diplomatic ghettoization of Israel, the growing power of the haredim and the religious right in Israel.

He emphasized that we need to re-commit the American Jewish-Israeli relationship to reaffirming Jewish power and the Jewish place in the community of nations. This means resisting the demonization from without -- and strengthening Jewish pluralism, especially religious pluralism in Israel.

Click here for their full summary, with a few pictures.

Tablet Magazine also covered the event.

Here came, for me, the most useful part of the conversation, because I got to see, in Halevi, something I had heretofore only read about: The widespread Israeli understanding of the 2005 unilateral withdrawal from all the Gaza settlements and a few in the West Bank as a complete disaster, which must never be repeated. “I don’t want Netanyahu to give anything away for free,” Halevi insisted, his voice carrying a harsh undercurrent for the only time that afternoon. The problem with extending the freeze for nothing in return, he said, is that the last time the settlements were put on hold—indeed, they were eliminated—in exchange for nothing, there were rockets; and then there was an attempt to stop the rockets; and then there was a near-total absence of international support for stopping the rockets; and then there was the Goldstone Report.

Read Marc Tracy's excellent overview of and commentary on the roundtable: Resisting ‘Re-Ghettoization’

Muslim-Jewish Relations

Our September newsletter focused on Muslim-Jewish relations, and if you've not had the chance to see it yet, it's definitely worth checking out. It gives an overview of our sources on topics from Muslim antisemitism in Sweden, to Jewish-Muslim cooperation, Jewish opposition to the proposed WTC mosque, the ongoing impact of 9/11 on Jewish-Muslim relations in America, memoirs of Jews from Muslim lands, and, of course, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - and much more.

On a related note - the following public statement, written by Rabbi Nancy Fuchs Kreimer and cosigned by a group of Rabbis and Jewish educators, was recently released:

As inter-religious educators who work with rabbinical students from all denominations, we are deeply dismayed by some of the ignorance and confusion we have heard expressed in the national conversation surrounding the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque.” We are especially concerned when we hear such ignorance and confusion coming from within the Jewish community. Whatever happens with the proposed community center in lower Manhattan, the controversy has highlighted a question that, in the post 9/11 world, comes enmeshed in strong emotion: Is the American ideal of religious liberty—an ideal fundamental to the health of our democracy—expansive enough to include Muslim Americans? We urge rabbis across the country to speak out against the bigotry that has been unleashed by this controversy, and to assert leadership on the issue of religious pluralism. As Jews, we know all too well the destructive power of hate speech. We should be in the forefront of efforts to ensure that religious minorities can practice their traditions freely.

We encourage our students and colleagues in the rabbinate—Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, Renewal, and independent—to consider using this September 11th, also Shabbat Shuva, as a time to reflect with our communities on our own fears and prejudices, on the need to educate ourselves about Islam, and on the role Jews might play in helping to create a more inclusive and just society. Of course, this is not to preclude any memorial prayers or other ways of remembering those who were killed on 9/11.

We are posting resources of general interest on www.multifaithworld.com. We are also developing a collection of sample sermons. Please be in touch with one of us if you have a contribution you would like to share.

We look forward to hearing your responses.

L’shana Tova,

Rabbi Justus Baird Director, Center for Multifaith Education, Auburn Theological Seminary

Rabbi Reuven Firestone Professor of Medieval Jewish and Islamic Studies, HUC-JIR/Los Angeles Senior Fellow, Center for Religion and Civic Culture, University of Southern California

Rabbi Nancy Fuchs Kreimer Director, Department of Multifaith Studies and Initiatives and Associate Professor of Religious Studies, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College

Rabbi Or Rose Associate Dean, Rabbinical School of Hebrew College Co-Director, Center for Interreligious Leadership Education

Raquel Ukeles, PhD Golda Meir Fellow, Hebrew University of Jerusalem Academic Director, World Leadership Program Jewish Scholar, Luce Retreat for Emerging Muslim and Jewish Religious Leaders

Rabbi Burton Visotsky Appleman Professor of Midrash and Interreligious Studies and Director, Finkelstein Institute for Religious and Social Studies, Jewish Theological Seminary of America

Luntz on Israel Messaging: Empathy, Empathy, Empathy

Last month on this blog I mulled over the question of how Israel advocates should frame pro-Israel messaging. In that post I quoted extensively from a 2003 report by Republican pollster Frank Luntz: Israel in the Age of Eminem - A Creative Brief for Israel Messaging. Last Friday, an interview with Luntz was published in the Jerusalem Post discussing this very topic.

In the interview, Luntz presents many phenomenal communications guidelines he wishes Israel's leaders would follow. Reading them, I wish American Jewish Israel advocates would follow them as well. Some highlights:

 

And that is what I see missing from so much of the [Israeli] communication: the essence of empathy. If I believe that you have the right intent, then I will believe that you have the right policy. But if I perceive that the intent is wrong, then I will never trust you...

 

It is the order of communication that matters... What you say in your first sentence determines how everything else flows. The Israeli communications strategy is to declare a conclusion and then provide the evidence. And I’m asking [the Israelis I’m working with] for exactly the opposite approach: to provide all the evidence and then demonstrate the conclusion...

An example of effective communication: Shimon Peres doesn’t speak like a political scientist. He speaks like a humanitarian. And he speaks in parables that are easily understood and appreciated. And he uses stories that make the information compelling, because no one’s ever heard them before...

Another great line for Israel is to say, “We’re not perfect. Every nation makes mistakes and we have our share. The question you need to ask us is, do we learn from them? And when we learn from them, are we a better people? Are we a better country, having learned from those mistakes?” Once again, Hamas will never admit this...

The No. 1 thing that we recommend is the empathy. Every mom mourns for her child, whether they are Jewish, Christian, Muslim. The loss of any children is the loss of humanity. And so the strongest line there is “Let us work for the day when we will not bury another child.”

I could not agree more with the necessity of demonstrating empathy. One quote in particular, bolded above, is especially interesting to me, and I think it is especially  important. Most people don't pay attention to the fine points of security policy, and I think most people know the limitations of their knowledge about complicated situations. But I think most people also make judgements based on their gut-level readings of who is acting with malicious intent. Too many Israelis, and too many Diaspora Jews, seem to take an emotional stance of defensiveness and hostility towards the world opinion. This only reinforces the image of Israel as a bitter, hostile fringe nation defying world opinion. This may be unfair, but what does that matter? As I said in the June post, it isn't enough to be right.

For more on the importance of the "why" over the "what," see this fascinating speech by Simon Sinek, who opines (at a TED conference) that "people don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it."

Dore Gold on US-Israeli Reconciliation and Jerusalem

On a week in which Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's visit to the White House brought American-Israeli relations front and center, it is worth highlighting an article published this past April by former Israeli Ambassador to the US Dore Gold.

The article is entitled "A Crisis in US-Israel Relations: Have We Been Here Before?" Gold answers this quesiton, of course, in the affirmative. (Side note: is it conceivable to use a title of this ilk and respond that no, we've never been here before?) "[W]e have had such problems at different times in the past," Gold writes, "and we have recovered each time." He provides examples from 1981 (Israel's destruction of Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor) and 1989 (another diplomatic scuffle over settlements). "The United States and Israel have been tied by mutual strategic interest for many years," he explains, "and those interests will eventually trump the differences we're seeing today."

Gold cautions, however, that if President Obama "advance[s] a  new division of Jerusalem, then in the months ahead the U.S. and Israel will be facing a serious crisis in their relationship".

I wonder if,  when he wrote that in  April, Ambassador Gold would have imagined that he would read only three months later that Prime Minister Netanyahu himself seemingly implied in unscripted remarks that certain parts of Jerusalem might be on the negotiating table.

Is this interpretation of what Netanyahu said a gross distortion of Bibi's real meaning perpetrated by journalists eager for a headline? Or is the possibility of dividing Jerusalem along some line or another truly hiding in the Prime Minister's thoughts? Bibi does seem to be in a peace-making mood, judging from his claim that peace is possible within a year. If so, perhaps this explains the President's newfound optimism about the peace process.

How much of all this is PR and how much reflects reality? I cannot pretend to know.

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