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The missing piece: A call for dialogue

Published: Thursday, April 12, 2012

Updated: Thursday, April 12, 2012 10:04


As many readers may have noticed, events and op-eds involving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have flourished on campus this semester. Of course, Tufts is not alone in struggling with this conflict, and between March and April four major conferences on this issue took (or will take) place: two at Harvard University (the One State Conference and the Harvard Israel Conference) and two in Washington, D.C. (AIPAC’s annual conference and J Street’s annual conference). But while conferences offer a wealth of information and can inspire further conversation, they ultimately serve to promote the ideas behind their organizations. As such, they must be supplemented by discussions that incorporate all viewpoints, which is what we hope to accomplish on the Tufts campus.

As members of the newly established J Street U group at Tufts, we had the opportunity to attend one of these conferences, J Street’s national “Making History” conference. J Street represents “the missing voice in Washington,” opening up a space for conversations that had been excluded from previous discourse surrounding the conflict. The organization’s name is creatively drawn from the omission of “J Street” in Washington D.C.’s otherwise impeccable grid system (i.e. there is no street between I Street and K Street). As a progressive movement, J Street provides a political home for those who believe that a secure Israeli state should exist alongside a stable Palestinian state.  Founded in 2008, J Street just held its third annual conference, which we attended along with eight other Tufts students and 2,500 J Street members in Washington, D.C.’s convention center.

At the conference, we heard speakers such as Israeli feminist Anat Hoffman, renowned novelist Amos Oz, Palestinian activist Dr. Mustafa Barghouti and former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert discuss the prospects for peace, Israel’s human rights record, Israeli domestic politics and the current crisis with Iran. As progressive Jews searching for a nuanced approach to examine the conflict, we are proud to note that the conference grappled with tough topics such as Israeli “pinkwashing” and targeted Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), even inviting proponents of a one state solution to speak on its panels. In the end, though, most speakers commented on paths to peace that intersected at a common conclusion: the urgency of a two-state solution. Located at the heart of Washington, D.C.’s grid, the convention center embodied a junction of opinions regarding the conflict. And as is the case with every conference, clearly some opinions and potential solutions — both to the right and to the left of J Street — were not given sufficient attention or were left unaddressed altogether. 

Just two weeks before J Street’s national conference, the Harvard Kennedy School hosted a One-State Conference, which embraced a single state between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River as a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this conference drew heated responses from a variety of sources opposing this solution, leading Israeli columnist Shmuel Rosner to write in the International Herald Tribune: “I’m not sure the Harvard conference should have been held: the one-state solution is an angering concept, and the gathering was an angering event.” He then said that the conference was “a distraction from seriously discussing how to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

While he speaks to the widespread frustration with groups unwilling to compromise in the region, Rosner’s belief that the conference should not have taken place at all undermines all progress toward a lasting and peaceful solution. Contrary to Rosner’s assertion, the viewpoints of one-staters must be recognized and understood, since those who hold these opinions will inevitably be a part of any solution to end the conflict.

The J Street conference, while presenting multiple angles of the case for a two-state solution, did not focus on the potential for a one-state solution because its purpose was to provide a forum for promoting its own political agenda, just as the goal of the One-State conference was to advocate its vision for resolving the conflict. Conferences are somewhat analogous to the guest-speaker events that occur regularly at Tufts. They provide an excellent opportunity to listen to thought-provoking presentations by distinguished scholars and have an important role in educating the campus about the conflict. However, these events, in which we are spoken to from a podium, cannot serve as a substitute for dialogue and discussion, where we as students can share our diverse thoughts and create a space for mutual learning and reflection.

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