We are Fairness To Israel (FTI), an independent association of Vassar alumni, parents of current Vassar students and friends of Vassar who are united in the belief that Israel has a right to exist, as a nation and as the recognized homeland of the Jewish People, with secure borders. We promote and support open and balanced debate about the long-standing Arab-Israeli conflict in an atmosphere of tolerance that is the cornerstone of a liberal arts institution.
FTI REPORT ON DIALOGUE ACROSS DIFFERENCES PANEL
FTI REPORT ON DIALOGUE ACROSS DIFFERENCE PANEL
NOVEMBER 12, 2015
Event: "Conversation About Israel/Palestine" - a "Dialogue and Engagement Across Differences," Thursday, Nov. 12, 2015, Rockefeller 300 with Prof. Yehezkel
Landau from Hartford Seminary and Imam Abdullah Antepli of Duke University.
Sponsored by: Office of President, Office of Religious
& Spiritual Life (RSL), , the RSL Forum for Inter-Religious Dialogue,
Africana Studies, Jewish Studies, the Department of Religion.
by: Sam Speers, Director of Religious
and Spiritual Life, who set the tone calling this a beginning effort to come
together, a time of listening. He
referred to “cycles of violence” and “struggles for dignity and justice” in the
Middle East and linked this struggle to other struggles, among them the
situation at the U. of Missouri and racial and economic injustice within U.S.
Moderator: Mia Mask, Assoc. Prof. of Film whose role was to handle the Q
SUMMARY of MAJOR POINTS:
The event was
called a “Dialogue Across Differences.”
This was a misnomer.The Turkish
Muslim Antepli, who refers to himself as a recovering rabid antisemite (growing
up, the first book he read about Jews and Judaism (at age 12) was the child’s
version of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion), and Yehezkel Landau, the Jew
with American and Israeli citizenship, someone who has spent most of his adult
life working with peace groups and doing outreach to Palestinians, agreed on
virtually everything.They called each
other “soul brothers.”
· Landau, and to a degree Antepli,
referred to Israel as the hyphenated state “Israel-Palestine” (Speers used this
term as well) and repeatedly expressed concern for the injustice and violence
being perpetuated by the Israelis.
· Antepli, when discussing his previous
antisemitism, said that it is understandable that Muslims are antisemitic
considering the misery and plight of their existence. He said that he couldn’t fully expunge his
antisemitism, just as Americans can’t fully remove their inherent racism.
· Antepli introduced the idea that we
can’t have a dialogue about Israel and Palestine in the Middle East or Europe
because of the extreme polarization, but we can do so here in American between
Muslims and Jews. To do so, he said that
we must eliminate the polarization, the black and white perspective, the
“villains and victims” approach. Despite
Landau’s suggestion to avoid using charged words like “ethnic cleansing”
because they are alienating, both men proceeded to frequently use politically
charged terms like “illegal occupation,” “settlers, “settlements,”
“occupation,” “expulsion of the Palestinians,” and “Nakba” throughout the
remainder of their presentations. They
seemed to be oblivious to their complete dismissiveness of and indifference to
those who hold a different perspective regarding the conflict. Their comments
clearly labeled the villain and the victim.
· Landau stated that half of the
Palestinians in 1948 were ”expelled at gunpoint.” He recognized that the Jews were pursuing
their self-determination, but said that it was at great cost to the
Palestinians, “imposing a collective injustice on one people in order to
rectify a worldwide injustice to another.”
Both speakers called for Israel to repent for its sins against the
Palestinians. There were no calls for Palestinian
· Landau said that the Palestinians view
Israel as a Goliath and the Palestinians as a David and he said that, while
skewed, there is some truth to that, which he takes seriously in terms of the
“oppressive policies” of the Israeli government. He believes that most Israelis see the
conflict in terms of an existential threat in that Israel is worried not solely
about the Palestinians, but also about all the surrounding enemies and
terrorists. For Landau, Israel does
harmful things because of its excessive focus and fixation on security. He proposed that Jerusalem be divided and
suggested that there be a right of return of Palestinians to Israel and the
so-called West Bank and that there should be 3 states established: Israel with its Arab minority, Gaza,
Palestine (referred to as the West Bank) in a confederation with Jordan. He also suggested that there should be a
limited right of return for Palestinians to Israel and that maybe some of the
“417 [Arab] villages that were wiped off the face of the map” could be “rebuilt
on empty kibbutz land.” Landau said that
the Palestinians should be compensated for the Nakba (his term), and suggested
that the same should be done for the Sephardic Jews who were forced from Arab
lands. Antepli disagreed and said that
the Palestinian suffering of 5 million refugees shouldn’t be compared with
Jewish suffering because there is no Jewish suffering today. Landau then agreed
in part, but Antepli described this as remaining a “powerful difference” (the
only one of the evening) between them.
· Landau said that he has been involved in
religious peace movements to fight the injustices perpetrated on the
Palestinians, restore their dignity and remove their feeling of trauma from the
Nakba. He postulated that only through
sacrifice would come forgiveness and, therefore, each side must make sacrifices
for peace. The Imam added that people
must turn grief into cooperation through sacrifice (what he envisions that the
Palestinians should sacrifice, he didn’t say).
· Despite Landau’s referring to
“Israel-Palestine” as the “Holy Land,” both insisted that the conflict is not a
religious problem; it’s fundamentally political. Religious language is used, but they believe
that it is really a question of land and Israel needs to sacrifice land for a
resolution of the problem. No mention
was made of the Arab rejection of partition and the prior offers of land for
peace by Israel. Both disparaged the
“settlers” as religious zealots causing much alienation.
· Antepli admitted that there is room for
improvement in the Muslim community regarding violence and that community
should be more open to what Israelis are saying. They must understand the
Jewish/Israeli narrative, as there is some truth about a Jewish connection to
the land. He felt that the connection is
not entirely “a post-WWII–made reality.”
He believes that as they demand a Palestinian state, Palestinians must
accept the legitimacy of a Jewish State.
· Landau claimed that Jews get too
defensive when Israel is attacked and criticized and they accuse the attackers
of being antisemitic. He agreed that one
should use the “double standard test” to identify antisemitism. Yet he demanded
moral and ethical behavior from Israel without demanding the same from the
Palestinians. It’s interesting to note that in my discussion with him after the
program ended, Landau insisted that Israel must be expected to behave according
to the high moral and ethical standards of Judaism. He admitted that he would not expect such
behavior from other nation-states. When
I pointed out the double standard, he just smiled. Antepli said that there is
“not too much space between criticizing the indefensible occupation and
antisemitism,” but Landau may have disagreed.
· Landau called himself a “Jewman being”
(rather than a “Jew” or a human as he considers himself responsible for all
humanity), and repeatedly claimed, much to the pleasure of many students in the
room, that Israel has serious flaws and is perpetuating injustices.
· Landau believed that people like Daniel
Pipes, Pamela Geller, David Horowitz and David Yerushalmi, are Jewish
Islamophobes and must be publicly denounced by the Jewish community and Antepli
criticized Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Zuhdi Jasser, Irshad Manjis (a well-know critic of
mainstream Islam and advocate for reform) and Mosab Hassan Yousef (a Hamas
member who spied for Israel) as renegade Islamophobes that hurt the cause of
peace. Then, said Landau, “Muslims will
trust us more.” Both urged people to
invest in mainstream leaders, many of whom are in the peace movement.
· Landau vilified the current Israeli
government as the worst ever. He said
that “we now have the worst Israeli government in response, largely to the
second intifada and three wars with Hamas.”
· Landau stated that there were elements of
colonialism/nationalism in Zionism, particularly among “the settlers and the
right wing secular people in the government.”
He talked about Arab pain, saying that you must have the ability to
understand the suffering of both sides.
However, neither man ever mentioned examples of Israeli trauma or pain.
Neither ever talked about the impact of the conflict on Israelis and their
suffering. These men consistently painted the Palestinians as helpless victims
and Landau attributed this situation to the Israeli neurosis regarding
· The Imam remarked that to Muslims,
Zionism is a painful form of racism. In response to a question, he said that
SJP supporters aren’t racist and he identifies with many of their points
(finger snaps). Zionism is the Jewish
nationalism, which, if taken to the extreme, is racist. And there are Israelis who take it to the
· Landau chimed in that the return to Zion
is a tragedy because of the conquering of another people and the expropriation
of their land. He insisted that Zionism
is good, but it’s been executed in bad and oppressive ways. He said that “the land and the state are meaningless
and that “some Zionisms are unkosher,” and that Israel has been “stuck for
decades” in a “war mentality or pre-emptive strike mentality.” The Imam added that the ethical and moral
failures of Israel should be criticized, but not the failures of Zionism (one
of only two slight differences of opinion between the two).
· They claimed that if Israel and the
Palestinians make peace, ISIS and other terrorist forces would melt away. They believe that the conflict is one of the
biggest recruitment tools for terrorist groups.
· When asked whether they believe in a right
of return, Landau initially insisted that both exiled peoples have valid rights
of return. He commented that a
negotiated number of Palestinians should be allowed back into Israel proper and
others to the disputed territories (my term) and Gaza.
· Both men talked about the oppressive
occupation of Palestinian land and that Jews should feel guilt about that. Palestinians, they said, deserve better.
Palestinians were described as “righteous victims.” They contended that
Israelis should not have voted for an immoral and unethical government that
places hardships on Palestinians.
Although each acknowledged the right of Israel to exist, neither
addressed the intransigent Arab opposition to acceptance of Israel.
· On BDS, both men supported it in
theory. Landau said he does believe that
BDS followers have “commendable aspirations,” but feels that the effort is not
productive and hurts the Palestinians more than the Israelis. Antepli supports BDS in principle because it
represents non-violent protest to overturn the terrible, illegal
occupation. However, he supports only
BDS directed at the “occupied” territories, not at Israel proper. In actuality, he, too, agrees that it is
self- defeating, but then offered the comment that Israel needs some “tough
love.” He never mentioned “tough love”
for the Palestinians. When I asked him
why, he shrugged that off.
· Throughout the program, Landau
denigrated the importance of Israeli security, saying Israel has an obsession
with it, and the result is their cruel oppression of the Palestinians.
· During this entire event, there was no
outright criticism of the Palestinians; they were the victims of a harsh
Israel. However, there was repeated and
consistent criticism of Israel and its “right-wing” government. There was also
criticism of the surrounding Arab states and lots of digs at the U.S. (met with
cheers from the students). They referred to the oppression and treatment of
Blacks and Native Americans as the greatest sin (even greater than the
oppression of the Palestinians), thus coupling the Palestinian issue with the
plight of Brown and Black bodies. Never once did they mention that the Jews
either agreed to, or themselves offered the Arabs, a Palestine state in 1937,
1947, 2000 and 2008, only to see Arab rejectionism and intensified violence.
It is my opinion that Vassar’s intention in presenting this
program was to offer an approach in which individuals can come together to
listen to each other’s narratives and in this way model a technique for discussion
around contentious issues. The fundamental flaw was that these two, while
differing in nationality, religion and life history, held virtually the same
perspectives and opinions on the conflict - the Palestinians are the innocent
victims and Israel is the oppressor and should sacrifice to make amends (Vassar’s
messaging on the conflict for years). This “dialogue” was a fantasy, in no
way reflecting reality where there are harsh differences of opinion. This
program was designed to be totally within Vassar’s comfort zone. It
wasn’t a model for discussing contentious issues between people who hold very
different opinions. It’s easy to talk with those with whom you completely
agree. There was no conflict resolution. This was a sham.
What this event did do was to reinforce the Vassar
anti-Israel narrative. The Vassar audience appeared happy to have confirmation
that Israel is evil and in need of reform and that the Palestinians are
long-suffering victims abused by an unjust Jewish nation. They seemed comforted by talk of “peace,”
“justice,” “suffering” and “victimhood.” The anti-Israel messaging that
dominated this presentation came with a stamp of approval from the President’s
Office, Spiritual Life, Jewish Studies etc.
Given the sponsors, the speakers and the fact that this was Pres. Hill’s
inaugural event of her signature project, Dialogue and Engagement Across
Differences, this program, at a certain level, is more harmful than the
blatantly antisemitic Blumenthal-Abunimah event.
My guess is that Vassar will tout
this “dialogue’ between an observant Israeli/American Jew wearing a yarmulke
and a Turkish Muslim to its alums as an example of a fair and balanced
presentation regarding Israel in a civil and constructive setting – a model
for future discussions. In my opinion, this program isn’t a model. It’s a fraud, a chance to support the
Palestinians at the expense of what they consider a morally deficient Israel, and another missed opportunity.