In today’s world, people choose facts. The simple objective truth has disappeared. People watch one TV channel, listen to one radio station, and read one newspaper, all ripe with their respective informational biases. Therefore, when the opportunity to attend the AIPAC conference and then a few weeks later the J-Street conference arose, I figured, “free trips” (Thank you Tufts Hillel!), and a chance to expand my intellectual bounds, why not?!
J-Street has a knack for raising the level of discussion. J-Street includes, respects, and welcomes dissenting viewpoints deviating from the traditional norm. This elevated level of discussion challenges everyone intellectually and forces a more nuanced understanding of the conflict. In fact, in strictly academic settings, debate and discussion that include dissenting opinions are necessary for a vibrant, intellectual society. However, and this is a big however, much to the chagrin of the cheering “Open-Hillel” contingent at the conference, this does not mean that these speakers should be welcomed at our Hillels.
Hillel should remain a safe place from hatred and demonization – no matter how hidden or disguised the speakers are. Intuitively, this should be natural for J-Streeters as well. The logic to me seems impeccable. If you love Israel, then you should cherish a place where you can share that love with others. If you feel that Israel needs a more nuanced understanding, then go to any of the number of classrooms located on your campus and engage in purposeful dialogue. A terrific analogy that Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum explained at this conference, pertaining to this debate, revolved around Jews and a belief in God. She was trying to make an argument for open debate, by explaining that just as we accept Jews who don’t believe in God, so too should we accept Jews who don’t believe in Israel.
I agree, we should definitely accept Jews who don’t believe in God in our communities just as we should accept Jews who don’t believe in Israel in our communities, but just as you wouldn’t want a Jew for Jesus to preach in your synagogue, so too should you not want a BDS activist in your Hillel.
Secondly, I was impressed and pleased with the argument raised concerning our maps. Here is the premise: If we want to say that Israel is in control of everything between Jordan and the Mediterranean, then our policies should reflect equality for all people in these areas. If, on the other hand, we want to say that Israel is not in control of those people, because they are governed by their own government, then it is difficult to say that Israel still is in control of this area.
Since, both and neither are correct, a more nuanced understanding should be taking place. The first place for this to take place should be on our maps. For the West Bank, we should identify this as a contested area. We should include the Green line and explain in the legend that it is an armistice line that has become the basis for peace talks with mutually agreed upon land-swaps. We should include Areas A, B, and C. And we should make it clear that although this is Israeli land, it is also Palestinian too. For Gaza, we need to make it clear, that Israel does not govern or control this land. For anyone who says that Israel has locked Gaza in an open-air prison, all you gotta do is look ‘em in the eye, smirk, and say do some actual reading. (Or, you could say that Egypt is doing the same thing as Israel for the same reasons. Hamas is terrorist organization, which means “danger!” Both have closed their borders to a terrorist organization after it came into power.
To those who disagree with the need to clarify our maps, I ask you if you have ever complained about Palestinian maps excluding Israel? It is hypocritical to yell and shout when Palestinians have maps without Israel, when we completely ignore any designation of Palestinians. Both parties need to be mature and accept one another and this is a simple step that we as diaspora Jews can take to demonstrate our openness to a two-state solution.
There were some “bad” parts about this conference though. Let me be very clear, bad means disappointing and or disturbing. Firstly, I don’t think I heard one panelist, representative, or delegate ever blame the Palestinians at any level. I would have liked to hear calls for Palestinians to seek government accountability, government institutions that fostered democracy, or even, however absurd this might be, lay some blame on Hamas. But, nope. In fact, I heard one student’s question: “Since the siege in Gaza is a revolving door (between Jewish lack of movement causing anger and terrorism, causing less movement), what can we do to stop this cycle?” The response was to give the Palestinian unity government a chance and to loosen the border and give Palestinians freedom of movement. What?! First, the borders closed because of Hamas. Pre-Hamas open borders, post-Hamas closed borders. Secondly, the unity government failed. Again. Third, why did this answer and question lead to so much applause?
A second truly upsetting feature of J-Street is the complete disregard for the reality on campuses. Very few people share the complexity and nuance for the conflict that J-Streeters have, which I commend. However, students listen for seconds, not minutes. This unfortunate reality does not gel with J-Street’s strategy of addressing the “big questions” first. Success advocating for a two-state solution or even a peaceful resolution fails when conversations occur on different platforms. J-Streeters and pro-Israel advocates respect Israel’s right to exist and its right to defend itself. They are on a platform with reasonable context. Most other students lack this context. They lack this understanding. They lack the desire to learn about the nuances and complexities needed to address the “big questions.” For this reason, J-Street’s strategy proves harmful instead of helpful to Israel. And yet, J-Street refused to listen. They refuse to adapt.
Lastly, I wanted to share some of my overall thoughts after attending this conference. Just because we can want to pursue a two-state solution now and just because we aren’t happy with the status quo does not mean we can will a successful change. More importantly, just because we are fed up with the situation does not mean we should force a dangerous peace treaty upon Israel. If there is legitimate partner on the other side as demonstrated by Sadat or King Hussein, peace will come regardless of the leader on the Israeli side; Begin and Rabin were ideologically distant to say the least. Israelis don’t like having bomb-shelters. Israelis don’t like the status quo, yet they also are afraid. They have to face the fears of a peace deal that we don’t have to. Whatever happens, we will still have our conferences. While for them, whatever happens, well, we don’t know where they will be… Either way, it is best for the people living with the consequences to arrange the solution, rather than people around the world wanting to feel like they made a difference.