Saul Golubcow
Saul Golubcow

The Dual Narrative Doesn’t Make Sense to Me: Let’s Talk About It

Like two people in a relationship fighting daily over multiple grievances only to learn later in counseling that they cannot work out their differences without first addressing the underlying sentiments driving their perspectives, so we American Jews stridently debate among ourselves various issues tied to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and talk past each other or, frustrated, walk away.

As I view these hapless discussions, I see two dominant footings. The first is the “dual narrative,” and here is my sense of what an adherent is feeling: “We need to accept the Israeli and Palestinian narratives as two equal points of view with the truth somewhere in the middle.” Or take the words of Mark Bilsky, Deputy CEO of Americans for Peace Now, who recently wrote in a piece promoting his version of a two-state solution (italics mine): “There is shame enough to go around, shame for what has happened to both peoples, shame for their own errors and misdeeds… The ultimate irony is the majority on both sides have come to understand and accept this.”

The second is the “single narrative” to which I resonate, and here’s how I describe it: Whatever we may feel for Palestinians as human beings caught in their leader’s vicious folly, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has only one narrative which tells the story of a century-long Arab war to eliminate the Jews and the Jewish fight for survival.

Hopefully, American Jewry are still chaverim despite sharp differences in the support of Israel. If that premise is accurate and if we were sitting before an imaginary therapist wanting to save the relationship before it unravels further, then one of us must go first by exposing the bases of our position including emotions, fears, resentments, and then listen as openly as possible to the other. I am willing to begin.

My head perceives major flaws in the logic that drives the dual narrative, but it’s my heart’s reactions that upset me. I listen to Jewish Americans who love Israel, several of my friends, and wonder how they find the Palestinian narrative, at the very least, equally appealing?

I have attended a few dual narrative events where an Israeli and a Palestinian present together. The Israeli is apologetic, evinces guilt-ridden empathy for Palestinians, provides historical background for the Jewish claim to the land, emphasizes that the Palestinians also have rights, have been victims much as Jews had been in the past, and are suffering from “the occupation.”

The Palestinian voices sympathy for “past” Jewish suffering and while sometimes acknowledging the Jewish people’s historical claim to the land, harps on Palestinian indigenous presence and repeatedly intones “the occupation” as the term that creates all reality elevating to tyrannical proportions Palestinian suffering for having to wait at checkpoints.

Most attendees at the end commiserate with the plight of the Palestinian and express admiration for the broad-minded Israeli. After all, we are a people dedicated to rodeph shalom, pursuit of peace, and, especially in our times of celebrated victimhood, a narrative of suffering and injustice plays more emotionally over a narrative of self-defense, secure borders, and historical self-determination.

So I leave quietly shaking my head sensing that in some Jewish hearts and minds, the saga of the “wandering Jew” is replaced by the “wandering Palestinian,” the millennia-long Jewish yearning for a homeland by the Palestinian dream of return of “refugees,” and the Jewish history of being oppressed by stories of innocent Palestinian children detained for simply demanding their civil rights.

I am confused. For me, this supplantation is misdirected in its push toward equivalency. Beyond wishful thinking, what evidence would a dual-narrative exponent such as Bilsky present to support his claim that “the majority on both sides” desires a two-state solution? Yes, a significant number of Israelis are in support, but on the Palestinian side, with Hamas controlling Gaza and with the majority of West Bank Palestinians in recent polls saying they would vote for Hamas, what has changed since the 1967 Khartoum Conference and its three nos, “no to peace, no to Israel, no to negotiations with it?” Thus, to my eyes, for Israel facing Palestinian intransigence, reaching middle ground can only mean the erosion of its security and ultimately Jewish identity.

So I am frightened and angry. The damage from cleaving to equivalency is already evident. There are reductions in monies raised for Israel’s security as many Jewish institutions and synagogues have directed their fundraising to other entities that fit the dual narrative.

Many of our national politicians who previously backed Israel strongly are not only hedging their support but, as seen in boycotts of the AIPAC conference and vituperative denunciations of that organization, also tilting toward the Palestinian cause.

I am saddened. Teaching dual narrative to our youth injects a dose of alienation from Israel. They hear the Palestinian dirge in conflation with their captivation with social justice, minority oppression, indigenous peoples, and neo-colonialism. At the same time they view Israel as a prosperous, militarily superior country with a “right wing” government claiming to be vulnerable and in need of strong security measures. Is there really a middle for them? Are they not being asked to choose? And can we not predict what many will choose?

No, I am not saying we should act as if a Palestinian perspective does not exist. But just as at the Passover seder we include the mind frames of both the wise and recalcitrant sons and make clear what comprises each ascription and what markedly separates the two, we must make the same differentiation when discussing Israel and the Palestinians.

Please believe me that I hope in our lifetimes we come to a point where we truly have dual narratives. To occur, the Palestinians will need to accede to the three yesses, yes to peace, yes to Israel, yes to honest negotiations. Then there still will be much for us to deliberate, a middle ground to examine, and resolutions to be achieved.

How do you feel about what I just shared?

About the Author
Saul Golubcow has published several pieces in Jewish weeklies and other Jewish forums. His subject matters have ranged from a well received piece called "The Noxious Notion of Jewish Privilege" to an article on bridging the political divide on "How We Can All Help AIPAC, to a book review of Yossi Klein Halevi's "Like Dreamers," a play review of "Bad Jews," and on the value of saying Kaddish. He can be reached at
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