An Open Letter to Johan Galtung: Peace-making and anti-Semitism Can’t Go Together?

Dear Prof. Galtung – I do not know what you were/are thinking; I have no idea what your intentions really were/are. I was appalled and deeply hurt by your encouraging people to read The Protocols of the Elders of Zion – which remains the most anti-Semitic text ever written.

I feel it important to begin with these facts: I am Jewish, Israeli, and engaged in the peace-building/conflict resolution academic and grassroots world. It is hard to say which one of these “identities” makes your recent anti-Semitic remarks so painful to me, but in truth, it does not matter.

Prof. Galtung, you are the man who brought peace building into academia, and, as a result, have had an extremely important influence in the establishment and development of academic peace and conflict resolution programs throughout the world.

You motivated me, and I am sure so many others, to pursue this field.

You inspired me to connect my academic work to peace building and activist endeavors.

Your work and ideas have helped me develop my understandings in my own research on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. They have also helped me frame my thoughts when writing and speaking out against the Occupation, against the siege on Gaza, against expressions of racism and xenophobia that I see here, at times, in Israel, conflicts that have been my daily reality for over 40 years.

If you were 'just' another academic, or 'just' another activist, perhaps my dismay, frustration, hurt and anger would not be so strong. But because of who you are, but more importantly what you symbolize, it was heartbreaking for me to read the statements that you made, that express anti-Semitic attitudes.

I was appalled and deeply hurt by your encouraging people to read The Protocols of the Elders of Zion – which remains the most anti-Semitic text ever written. Yes, you did say it was a fabrication. But you also said that it includes an important lesson about “debt bondage and power” in connection to other comments concerning Jews and our supposed economic power and control of the media. You tied these three issues together. You brought the book into the ‘conversation’, discussing it more than once, and by continuing to do so, your words become a recommendation to read this book of hate against Jews, and to see ‘truths’, even if that was not your intention.

Over the last few days, academics in the peace and conflict field have been struggling to understand what happened. The first responses were ones of denial: ‘He does not always frame things as he should” followed by “this is mostly a matter of misunderstanding.” These were reactions of shock and disbelief, which briefly paralyzed colleagues, rendering almost all speechless. Once the shock wore off, we reached the second stage. We realized, that, yes, it really was you, who said these hurtful things.

This has led me and others to try to understand why you made these disturbing statements. Different hypotheses have been raised; there is no consensus, and personally I remain confounded why you made these anti-Semitic remarks. I wish so very hard that this would all go away

But, of course, it cannot.

For once anti-Semitism, indeed any form of racism, has been put out there, it cannot be taken back. I cannot pretend that you did not make the comments that you made. I cannot explain away your anti-Jewish statements that echo ugly and untrue accusations against the Jews - my people - that have persisted throughout history.

Dear Prof. Galtung – I do not know what you were/are thinking; I have no idea what your intentions really were/are. All I can do is evaluate the statements you made, including Transcend International’s official response. I continue to hear negative stereotyping in your words. I am hurt that you offer no public apology, nor publicly recognize that your words caused hurt, even if was not your intention to do so. I perceive a spreading of lies and hatred about an entire people – lies that could ultimately put us/me in harm’s way.

Once racist remarks are put out there, they cannot be taken back. They inhabit our world, and we feel their presence. We mourn the pain that they have caused, and will continue to cause, for once they are put out there, the words quickly spread far and wide, and so easily spin out of control and multiply.

I ask you to reflect on the harm you have caused, not because I am Jewish, or an Israeli, or a peace researcher and peace activist, but because I am a person. Your words have hurt people, they are unjust, and go against every principle of peace-making.

I am not sure how quickly my pain and anger will dissipate, or how quickly the pain and anger of other Jews will fade; it will most likely take time. It is my deep hope that you will publicly acknowledge that your words caused harm and apologize for your anti-Semitic remarks. This act may help repair some of the damage, and would be a step toward positive peace.

In any event, I will continue to engage in actions and reflective thought and hope that this work can help turn our often violent and ugly world into a world of justice, non-violence, respect, and peace.

Julia Chaitin, PhD is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Social Work, Sapir College and a peace and social justice activist with Other Voice, Friendship across Borders and Joint Ventures for Peace. Forty additional academics from Israel, the US and Canada are co-signatories to this letter.