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June 13, 2009

Listening to Alternative Perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Today, the Consul General of Israel, Jacob Dayan, spoke at my synagogue, Ohr Hatorah.

Israel is a very difficult topic for me to deal with, as a practicing Jew and as a peace activist. I desperately want to respect the opinions of people with whom I disagree. I want to be able to listen to opposing viewpoints without running away. I still do not know how to have a meaningful dialog on this issue and this troubles me greatly.

First, I want to review my positions. I respect that the leaders of my congregation have declared the temple to be Zionist, but I hope I am allowed to continue to participate in the community even though I disagree with them.

Judaism is my religion. I am a post-Orthodox, neo-Hasidic Jew and I go to temple almost every Shabbat. It is also my ethnicity: both of my parents are Jewish and I have never heard anyone in my family call us Ukrainian or Russian (even though most of my ancestors came from the Ukraine back when it was part of Russia), because my people were never accepted into those nationalities. So, yes, it is my ethnicity as well. But it is not my nationality.

In my view, a religious state is inherently undemocratic. Any religious state is inherently undemocratic. Why? Because the act of declaring a state religion isolates and subjugates citizens who do not share those religious beliefs.

I believe Israel is occupying Palestine. I believe Jewish-only highways are an obstacle to peace. I believe all Jewish settlements in the West Bank are an obstacle to peace. I believe the Israeli blockade of Gaza is an obstacle to peace. I believe Israeli checkpoints surrounding and within the West Bank and Gaza are an obstacle to peace. I believe until US'ians recognize Israel's inherent power over the Palestinians, we will never be honest brokers, nor will we ever help create peace.

I believe all Palestinian political leaders deserve a space at the negotiating table for peace. I believe this should occur with absolutely zero pre-conditions. Negotiating occurs at the peace table, not before you sit down. Hatred abounds on both sides of this conflict, and Israeli distrust of Hamas cannot trump democratic elections.

I denounce all acts of violence. This includes Palestinian suicide bombers. I denounce Palestinian attacks on Israel. I also denounce Israeli attacks on Palestine. Violence begets violence and there was nothing just about Israel's attack on Gaza in December 08 / January 09.

Right, so now that I've gotten that out of the way, here's a bit of what Mr. Dayan said this morning. I did not take notes for the entire speech (at first I was just trying to breathe), but here's what I did catch (this is not verbatim):

The world is very different today than it was 10, 20, 30, 40 years ago. I know this because the best rapper in the world is white. The best golfer in the world is black. The Germans don't want to go to war. And the French call Americans arrogant.

We face a huge threat from non-state actors. Terrorism is the scourge of the world. There are many different terrorists, but the thing that unifies them is that they all believe in fundamentalist Islam. And Muslims suffer the most from these terrorists.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is the biggest threat to peace in the Middle East. His denial of the Holocaust proves that he is an enemy to Jewish people. The possibility of Iran developing nuclear weapons is the biggest threat to peace in the region.

This threat in the region provides us with a great opportunity to work with other countries in the Middle East.

Israel made a decision not to control the lives of Palestinians.

Israel was established not because of the Holocaust, but because we have roots; 3,000 years of roots in Israel. Theodor Herzl's original Zionist plan was to create a Jewish state in Uganda. It was only after that plan was defeated at the Seventh Zionist Congress that he realized there was only one place where Jews can establish and should establish their homeland.

Israel has a three track approach to peace:

  1. Economy: Without a middle class, you cannot create a stable economy. The West Bank was extremely quiet during the military operation in Gaza, especially in comparison to Europe, because they see an alternative to Hamas.
  2. Military
  3. Political track
  4. Good governance: Israel is not a part of this track, but the Palestinians have to build their institutions. In the face of corruption, Palestinians turned to Hamas as an alternative.

The most immediate threat that we face globally today is the Iranian threat.

Israel agrees with President Obama's strategy for peace in the Middle East. We may disagree on a tactical level, but that's okay. The United States remains our strongest and most important ally.

With hopes for a peaceful future for all people of the Middle East, including Jewish Israelis, Palestinian Israelis, Palestinians, and Iranians.

Posted by cj at June 13, 2009 5:00 PM


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