At the recent debate between Daniel Gordis and Peter Beinart at Columbia University we saw two thinkers engage in a deep and informed debate. In substance there is very little between them, and the debate focused on the small but significant differences in their approach. One area where the division was stark however was on whether to engage with anti-Zionists. While Beinart thought it was vital that they be engaged with, Gordis believed that bringing them into the dialogue unjustifiably legitimizes their cause.
Ever since the report by the Reut Institute on deligitimization back in 2010, the Jewish People have been engaged in a debate on what the red lines are of being included or excluded from the Big Tent for Israel. While the debate has been raging inside the community, the fact is that many pro-Palestinians have been having their own internal discussions about the utility of appearing alongside supporters of Israel.
Ideologically linked to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, the Anti-Normalization campaign seeks to police interactions between Israelis and Palestinians. Seeing as dialogue groups have done little to end the occupation, they have called for an end to all joint programs and interactions between Israelis and Palestinians that do not subscribe to the three tenets of the BDS movement, namely; end of occupation, equal rights and a full right of return for refugees.
The anti-normalization movement, boosted by inaction in the peace process, has seen successes in the region at breaking up meetings that do not follow these principles. What is most interesting however is their mirrored success abroad. In both Europe and the U.S., you can rarely, if ever, find a panel with an Israeli and a Palestinian speaking together or against each other. The exception to this rule is when the topic of discussion is the one-state solution.
Having been a student in both the U.K. and the U.S., I can vouch for the fact that this state of affairs is new. When I was an undergrad student, there were many panels and debates between Israelis and Palestinians, or their surrogates. But today you can count on one hand the number of events where Israelis and Palestinians have joint public events.
As we in the Jewish community started the internal conversation on who we would speak to and who we would not, the pro-Palestinian community made its mind up to refuse to support any event that in their mind legitimated the occupiers and created an image of equivalence between the two societies.
While Jewish or Israeli students on campus might enjoy good private discussions and friendships with Palestinians or their supporters, it is almost impossible to put on a public event.
As the one-state solution paradigm becomes increasingly dominant in activist circles, so to will the barrier to dialogue and debate. As we in the Jewish community finally come out of our own internal Jewish conversation, we will face a Palestinian community that is only willing to speak to us about a one-state solution.
The Jewish tradition is based in debate and discussion, yet we face a dilemma if our interlocutors insist on speaking in a frame of reference that is an anathema to the vast majority of the community. Perhaps of all the points raised by the Gordis vs. Beinart debate was that this will be one of the most dominant challenges for Diaspora Jewry moving forward.
Joel Braunold is a Bnei Akiva alumnus and a former staff member of OneVoice Europe who is currently studying at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.
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