David Elcott on Interfaith Mideast Peace Work

Prof. David Elcott discusses the decline of interfaith work on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (Part of our Office Hours series.)

Negotiating with Terrorists: Shalit May Be Coming Home

Gilad Shalit

Jews worldwide are doubtless thrilled to hear that Gilad Shalit may be on his way home soon. The prayers of millions may be on the verge of being granted.

Amidst the elation, however, many are doubtless also wondering how and why it is that Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu has agreed to swap prisoners with the terrorist group Hamas, apparently breaking, bending or changing Israel's long-standing policy: you don't negotiate with terrorists.

[W]e - Israel, the legitimate Palestinian government, the Arab world, and the entire international community - cannot afford to appease or reward Hamas.  (Tzipi Livni)

 Israel has never, nor will it ever, negotiate with Hamas, as long as it refuses to accept the three principles set forth by the international community. (Ehud Olmert)

No country can be expected to negotiate with a terrorist organization sworn to its destruction. (President Obama)

 Yet PM Netanyahu has just run afoul of all three of these pronouncements from leaders who can hardly be accused of being more right-wing than he.

Questions upon questions present themselves. Will the Israeli public be so ecstatic to have Gilad back that they approve of this deal? If so, how will they respond the next time international leaders demand that Israel sit down with a Palestinian Authority leadership team that includes Hamas? How then could anyone simply say, we don't negotiate with terrorists? Is there to be an exception for hostages, and if so, what if this causes Hamas to take more hostages? Or what if they don't? Could it not be said that every Israeli and every Palestinian is already, in a way, a hostage to this war?

These are not easy questions, and they deserve a conversation beyond easy responses. It would be useless simply to declare that this deal proves that nations should always be willing to negotiate with terrorists who murder civilians, and equally useless to dismiss this particular deal in this particular situation out of hand, merely because it cuts against the grain of a general principle. Geopolitics is chess, not checkers, and the search for an answer that works in every situation is a search destined to fail.

Yet this kind of simple-minded attitude, it seems to me, generally characterizes American Jewish discourse about the Middle East. Either you're an Israel-booster, eager to refute any criticism, eager to show that Israel is always right, and that the answer to all provocations must be strength, or you're a peacenik convinced that Israeli military action is always wrong, and that all violence is one simple, easily comprehensible "cycle of violence." The missing voices are the voices of nuance and complexity -- voices held hostage within our minds to the natural desire of all of us to fit into a pre-packaged political camp.

This development -- a hardline Prime Minister negotiating with Hamas and agreeing to a deal that releases a thousand Palestinian prisoners -- may turn out to have been brilliant, or it may turn out to have been disastrous. (Only time, and perhaps an enormous amount of it, will tell.) Either way, I think this news should upend our habits of knee-jerk reaction in dialogue on Middle East questions. It should remind us to examine each question in its particulars, and not just in its abstractions.

And either way, if and when Gilad Shalit returns to Israel alive and free, it should be a cause for enormous celebration.

David Elcott on Interfaith and Interethnic Coalition-Building

For the latest installment in our Office Hours series, Prof. David Elcott discusses his experiences working with leaders across boundaries of religion and ethnicity to build meaningful interfaith and interethnic coalitions.

 

From the J-Vault: Arab-Jewish Relations, Pre-Statehood

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On a day which saw comedienne Sarah Silverman offer her prescription for Middle East peace at the Israeli Presidential Conference -- a conference whose theme is "Tomorrow" -- let's take a look back at the Israel of yesterday, through the eyes of one of America's most important Zionists: Henrietta Szold.

This week, from the J-Vault: Recent Jewish Progress in Palestine (1916)

While Szold's report is mostly concerned with immigration figures, economic development, urban planning, village life, and other such logistical concerns, one section discusses relations between Arabs and Jews, and makes the reader long for an alternate and peaceful past that did not occur:

In general, the relation between Jews and Arabs is not unsatisfactory, in spite of the friction that occurs at certain points of contact. The reasonable expectation is that it will improve, because the mutual respect is increasing. The Arab has begun to recognize the value that has accrued to him and the land by the presence and the activity of the Jew. He already pays him the flattery of imitation. In some places he has adopted the modern methods and implements introduced by the Jew. On the other hand, the Jew recognizes that the Arab may be his teacher in all that relates to the soil. His fiber is, as it were, habituated to it. He knows it by instinct. For instance, the primitive plow of the Arab husbandman, wielded by his predecessor on the soil three thousand years ago, it was thought must be baniyhed beyond recall. More careful investigation has demonstrated that on some soils deep upturning is harmful; the superficial scratching of the wooden plowshare with its small iron attachment is exactly what is needed. Such recognitions of mutual helpfulness will multiply and make for a better understanding and neighborly tolerance. But that the relation is an aspect of Jewish colonization that will require wisdom and tact and statesmanship can and should not be minimized; nor are the leaders of Palestine public opinion guilty of neglect in this particular.

Szold goes on to describe the presence of a significant number of Russian converts to Judaism. She also predicts that Yemenite Jews, who are "tenaciously and loyally Jewish, intellectually alert," but "Arabic in speech and habit," will be "a cement between Arab and Jew, between the industrially-minded Jew of the city and the agriculturally minded Jew of the country, between Sefardi and Ashkenazi."

 Download this publication...

 

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Yom Yerushalayim / Jerusalem Day

Jerusalem

Happy Yom Yerushalayim! On this day in 1967, Israel captured and reunited Jerusalem during the Six-Day War.

 Here are just a few of many BJPA publications having to do with Jerusalem:

1967 Borders, and How to Lie With Maps

Israel, sans Green Line

As Jews in America, Israel and elsewhere continue to mull over President Obama's Middle East speech last Thursday, and his subsequent explanation at the AIPAC conference, "1967 borders" have become the topic du jour.

In 2008, Hannah Weitzer of Windows-Channels for Communication observed in Sh'ma that Diaspora Jews are accustomed to looking at maps of Israel which do not mark the Palestinian territories, or the "Green Line" that represents the 1967 border. "Drawing in the internationally recognized border between Israel proper and the occupied territories is not a quick fix for all of the issues surrounding Israel education," she writes. "But teaching with maps that lack the green line is indicative of a larger gap between fact and myth that runs rampant in teaching Israel to Diaspora Jews."

But if a map without the Green Line is deceptive, might not a map featuring a hard, solid, 1967-style Green Line be equally deceptive? In the same issue of Sh'ma, history professor Derek J. Penslar cautions against oversimplification in cartography:

"I have a colleague at the University of Toronto who teaches a course called 'How to Lie With Maps.' Supporters of Israel might well suggest as required reading for this course Palestinian maps that show a unitary Palestine from the Mediterranean to the Jordan with no sign of Israel’s existence. Yet Israeli maps, and those produced by and for Diaspora Jews, rarely mark the Green Line that constitutes the country’s internationally recognized borders."

Yet is the answer simply to replace one simplistic map with another simplistic map?

"The best way... would be through maps that faithfully depict the constant presence of Jews and Arabs in the same landscape... Superimposing maps would display the geographic structure and distribution of each community along with the points of intersection between them."

Penslar's chief concern is diachronic -- he wants to help people to understand the development of Arab and Jewish populations in Israel/Palestine over time. But I think his point is even more interesting if taken synchronically -- as a model for looking at the present moment. The reality of Jewish settlement blocs, along with Arab-majority population centers in Israel proper, makes the prospect of a neat and tidy border along the Green Line completely untenable. Besides which, the Green Line was not set in stone or decided upon by any kind of treaty or decree -- it's basically a cease-fire line marking troop positions during a pause (lasting from 1949 until 1967) in a war that started in 1948 and has never actually ended. President Obama, of course, recognizes this, which is why he included the phrase "mutually-agreed swaps" in his speech.

In any case, Penslar's point at its core is that a simple map is a deceptive map, and I think perhaps observers of all but the most extreme positions can agree with that.

Complexity

From the J-Vault: Kids for Peace

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The year was 1915, and the Great War (World War I) was devastating Europe. An ocean (and then half a continent) away, The Chicago Hebrew Institute decided to enlist their Sabbath and Sunday school students to promote the ideal of peace.

This week, from the J-Vault: A Peace Movement Among Children (1915)

Writing in the Bulletin of the National Conference of Jewish Charities, Philip L. Seman used terms for his school's initiative which, in modern times, would be criticized as an unacceptable form of indoctrination of the youth:

The children of the Peace Society are recruited from various classes conducted at the Institute, particularly from the Sabbath and Sunday school. The main effort is to saturate the children's minds and hearts against the horrors of war, and in favor of universal peace. At a recent meeting of the teachers of the Sabbath school, we have made clear that the teachers, in instructing the children in Bible history, should underestimate the heroism, too often made much of in the Sabbath schools, regarding the wars the Hebrews fought in early days, and to draw ethical lessons in favor of peace. In other words, our teachers were instructed, not as has been the fashion heretofore, to encourage young Judea to emulate the militarism of the Maccabees, but rather to hope for the realization of the human peace prophecy of Isaiah.

Read more...

Browse the BJPA for publications on War and Peace, or search for "indoctrination".

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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:


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