Last night, I had the pleasure of engaging in dialogue with fellow leaders in the Madison Jewish community about the seemingly intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I was reminded once again why it is so important to create safe space for meaningful dialogue. This was the 3rd monthly session this year, with monthly dialogue sessions to continue throughout the year. Dates and registration information are available here.
At the outset of last night’s session, our facilitator reminded the participants that through dialogue, our goal was to gain insight and not to incite, which felt highly appropriate given the inflammatory nature of so much that is said about this conflict, and about those who are trying so hard to solve it.
Earlier this week, I attended the 5th J Street Conference in Washington, DC. Together with over 3000 pro-peace, pro-democracy, pro-Israel attendees, including over 1000 college students, I gained tremendous insight about both the challenges and opportunities for peace.
The challenges, of course, include Prime Minister Netanyahu’s renouncement of a two-state solution (which he later backtracked on after securing his election victory) as well as deep fractures within Palestinian leadership. (A web cast of this session is available here. Start watching at the 13 minute mark). But despite these challenges, opportunities abound, and were demonstrated profoundly in a few ways at the conference.
First, during Monday afternoon’s plenary session, two remarkable things happened. As was well covered in the media worldwide, President Obama’s Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, made clear that the United States friendship with Israel remains strong. But, he also made clear that Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories must end in order maintain the viability of Israel as the secure, democratic homeland of the Jewish people. He received multiple standing ovations from the crowd. (A web cast of this session is available here. Start watching at the 44 minute mark).
Later in that same plenary, Hilik Bar, the leader of Israel’s Labor Party, sat side by side with Saeb Erekat, the PLO’s Chief negotiator. They both spoke of their mutual desire to achieve a peaceful two state solution. (A web cast of this session is available here. Start watching at the 2:05 hour:minute mark). These 2 statesmen continued their conversation during a packed workshop, during which it was clear that while they did not agree on everything, they did agree on the fundamental need to establish a Palestinian state for each nation’s mutual security. I would like to see them go on a world-wide Partners for Peace tour.
That evening, at dinner, former Secretary of State James Baker reaffirmed the longstanding bi-partisan support for Israel and for a 2 state solution. He went on to support President Obama’s efforts to come to a nuclear agreement with Iran and chided those in Congress who have attempted to scuttle those sensitive negotiations. He reminded the audience that American opposition to Israel’s expanded settlement occupation of the West Bank has also been bi-partisan. Indeed, when he was Secretary of State under the first President Bush, the United States withheld $10 million in loan guarantees to Israel when then Prime Minister Shamir insisted on expanding those settlements over US opposition. He added that Shamir’s actions were followed by his election defeat and the election of Prime Minister Yithak Rabin. (A web cast of this session is available here. Start watching at the 41 minute mark). Witnessing the staunch Republican Baker essentially agreeing with President Obama’s Chief of Staff made clear that these positions are indeed bi-partisan.
Yet, despite the ability of Republican and Democrat, Israeli and Palestinian to find ample room for agreement, journalists like the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin choose to incite by describing J Street as “anti-Israel” when she blasted McDonough’s speech at the conference. Worse yet, conservative talk show host, Mark Levin, fueled more incite when slamming Sec. Baker’s J Street speech, described J Street as a “left wing hate group.”
As Chair of J Street Madison, with family and friends in Israel, I can assure you that my work with J Street is premised on both my love for Israel and J Street’s support for Israel’s long-term viability as the peaceful, democratic homeland of the Jewish people. Hate? I saw no hate at the J Street conference. Only insight on how to solve the seemingly intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
For more information on how Jeff Spitzer-Resnick can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change, visit his website: Systems Change Consulting.