Why I’m presenting at Harvard’s one-state conference

on 11 Comments
Avraham Burg
Avraham Burg

The Harvard Kennedy School is hosting a “One State Conference” this weekend and already the usual suspects are crying foul. Since I’m going to be speaking on a panel at the conference on Sunday, I thought it might be a good idea to weigh in with some thoughts.

I’ll begin with the stated vision/goals of the conference, according to student organizers:

To date, the only Israel/Palestine solution that has received a fair rehearsal in mainstream forums has been the two-state solution. Our conference will help to expand the range of academic debate on this issue. Thus, our main goal is to educate ourselves and others about the possible contours of a one-state solution and the challenges that stand in the way of its realization.

Sound reasonable? Not according to self-appointed Jewish community watchdogs like the ADL and NGO Monitor and the ubiquitous Alan Dershowitz and Jeffrey Goldberg.  According to the ADL, such a conference could only be interested in “the elimination of Israel as the national homeland of the Jewish people.”  Dershowitz referred to it as an “anti-Israel hate fest.” Goldberg thinks organizers share “a goal with Hamas: the elimination of Israel as a homeland and haven for Jews.”

Reading these incendiary words such as these, I can’t help but be struck by the abject hysteria that gets regularly mistaken for public relations by the American Jewish establishment.

I find it fascinating that these concerned institutions and individuals are more than willing to rail against the wide-eyed extremists and useful idiots participating in this conference, yet cannot take the time to ponder what might have brought us to this point in the first place.  Has Abe Foxman, for instance, ever called out Israel over its settlement policy that has by now made a mockery of a viable two-state solution?  Is Alan Dershowitz willing to bring half as much righteous anger to the concern that Israel is fast creating “one state” all by itself?

I wrote recently about the “ever-closing window” on the two state solution. We might still argue about whether or not the window has closed yet, but I think we can all agree that the prospect for a viable, equitable two state solution for Israel/Palestine is in serious jeopardy.

As I pointed out in my post, sooner or later we’ll be forced to choose between a patently undemocratic Jewish state that parcels out rights according to ethnicity and a democratic state in which equal rights are enjoyed by all its citizens. Given this scenario, is it unreasonable that people of good will might desire to open conversations and suggest fresh, creative approaches that might ensure a better future for Israelis and Palestinians?

It’s even more ironic when you consider that notable and respected Israeli figures have been discussing a potential one-state solution for some time. While the American Jewish establishment grows apoplectic at the very thought, Israeli society seems more than secure enough to tolerate the discussion.

As far back as 1991, for instance, respected Israeli/American political scientist Daniel J. Elazar promoted a one-state “federal solution” for Israel/Palestine (most notably in his book, “Two Peoples – One Land: Federal Solutions for Israel, the Palestinians, and Jordan”). Meron Benvenisti, an Israeli political scientist who was Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem under Teddy Kollek from 1971 to 1978, has publicly advocated the idea of a bi-national state for several years. A more recent Israeli advocate of one state is Avrum Burg, former Speaker of the Knesset and chairman of the Jewish Agency, who wrote about the subject in a widely read 2011 op-ed in Ha’aretz.

It is even less widely-known in the American Jewish community that prominent numbers of the Israeli right wing, such as former Minister of Defense and Foreign Minister Moshe Arens and current Speaker of the Knesset Reuven Rivlin, have suggested the desirability of some form of a one-state solution. Granted, the solution advocated by Arens and Rivlin – an undivided state that nonetheless retains its exclusively Jewish character – differs significantly from the federalist or bi-national models promoted by Elazar, Benvenisti and Burg. Still, I believe these unlikely bedfellows share critical aspects in common: the conviction that a two-state solution in unworkable, a willingness to pursue fresh creative ideas, and – contrary to what many might claim – a hard-headed political realism.

Many of the conference’s critics have pointed out that secular multi-ethnic states simply do not work. Goldberg claims that it “barely works” in Belgium and Dershowitz points out that it failed in India and the former Yugoslavia.  Fine. If this is the criticism, then let’s put this issue on the table and discuss it – as we most certainly will be doing this weekend (most likely at the panels entitled “Nationhood and Cultural Identity: The Preservation of the Peoples” and “What are the Obstacles to the Realization of a One-State Solution?”). But must we seek to marginalize the conference for simply seeking to have the conversation?

There are also criticisms that the conference is too “one sided” and that the presenters are unduly “biased.”  In truth, the presenters in the conference represent a spectrum of opinions on this issue. Some (like Ali Abunimah) have openly advocated a one state solution, others (such as Stephen Walt) support a two state solution and some (like me) are agnostic on the issue.  But I know many of the presenters personally and have long admired many more. Contrary to the venom being slung their way, these are thoughtful – if sometimes controversial – people of good will.  While we are a diverse lot, I believe we share a common desire to broaden this scope of conversation and an eagerness to bring fresh new thinking to a painful and paralyzed status quo.

The student organizers of the conference have released an open letter to their critics. Here’s an excerpt:

The aim of this conference is to explore the possibility of different solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Invoking inflammatory language like “anti-semitism” and “destruction of Israel” to describe the ideas and speakers of the conference is not only incorrect and defamatory but serves to prevent rational discussion of ideas and preempt the effective exercise of speech.

I look forward to reporting on my experiences at the conference.

This post was first published at Brant Rosen’s site, Shalom Rav.

About Rabbi Brant Rosen

Rosen is the midwest regional director of the American Friends Services Committee

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11 Responses

  1. Annie Robbins
    February 29, 2012, 10:17 am

    yet cannot take the time to ponder what might have brought us to this point in the first place.

    thanks. i was having an extended email exchange with someone in the last few days arguing this very thing. about the window.

  2. Bill in Maryland
    February 29, 2012, 10:29 am

    Thank you very much Rabbi Rosen for your courage and willingness to engage in a rational conversation about the future of Israel/Palestine that considers human rights-based solutions, and dares to imagine a future for two peoples in which violence, segregation, and degradation are not used to enforce Jewish privilege in the Holy Land.

  3. Pixel
    February 29, 2012, 10:38 am

    Thanks, Brant, and thanks also to you, Phil, for reposting Brant’s piece, here.

    “I can’t help but be struck by the abject hysteria that gets regularly mistaken for public relations by the American Jewish establishment.”

    Their continuing and escalating hysteria is as fascinating to watch as it is sad.

    They can’t stop.

    Hysteria is like that. It feeds on its own panic.

  4. pabelmont
    February 29, 2012, 10:55 am

    Indeed, foaming at the mouth (as The Dersh adn others regularly do) is a substitute for dealing with the real problems and a STRATEGY for FILLING THE EAR SPACE with their ranting so there will be no room for the other conversation (about settlements, et al).

    I am reminded of a description I once heard of a (psychotic?) woman who lived in a “half-way house” for people being returned to (or toward) the normal community from a mental asylum. According to the story, she spent all her time vacuuming. When someone asked her why she vacuumed so much — imagining that she had a compulsion to clean up imaginary dirt, for instance — they were surprised to learn that they were wrong: she ran the vacuum because it was LOUD and, indeed, so loud that when vacuuming she could not hear “her voices”.

    I think the (psychotic? acting as if psychotic?) pro-settlement crowd is being LOUD in order not to have to THINK about the realities of Israeli policies vis-a-vis their own normal (in other circumstances) ethics but also NOT TO HEAR OUR VOICES — which excite their psychoses or at least plunge them into contemplation of their own ethical contradictions.

  5. Bumblebye
    February 29, 2012, 11:13 am

    MK Uri Ariel has laid out his vision of a one state solution:
    wherein he advocates annexation of ‘Judea and Samaria’, Palestinians to have permanent residency status, the right to vote in municipal but not Knesset elections, and the same rights to enjoy services as citizens of Israel. If they want to be citizens of their OWN country, then after FIVE years, they can attempt to jump thru a number of Israeli devised hoops, take a loyalty oath, and become Israelis in the land of their and however many generations of their forebears births. WOW. The generosity! Meanwhile, the Israelis would ensure their lesser citizenry (who would now have the right to vote in Knesset elections) remained so by gerrymandering Knesset voting districts to maintain a Jewish majority, and ensure they would still have a lesser status. Oh, and all the crimes we are aware of, well, they would simply be as they are treated already, facts on the ground.
    It’s a piece that really, really should be foregrounded/highlighted at the conference.

    • Fredblogs
      February 29, 2012, 2:13 pm

      There’s no such thing as Knesset voting districts. Israel isn’t the U.S. or UK where voters vote by district.

      Knesset elections run by proportional representation. Your party gets x% of the national vote, your party gets x% of the Knesset seats. No such thing as gerrymandering in the Knesset. Each party has a slate of legislators, if they get 7 seats, the top seven guys on the slate get the seats, if they have 12 seats the top 12 guys get seats, etc.

      The proportional representation system is why there have been Arab Israelis in every Knesset since the birth of Israel.

      • Bumblebye
        February 29, 2012, 5:03 pm

        I suggest you read the piece.
        “In order to maintain a Jewish and democratic state, the electoral system will be adapted into a proportional-regional system. When the constituency boundaries are determined…”etc.
        Might not exist now, but it’s part of Uri Ariel’s vision.

      • Fredblogs
        February 29, 2012, 6:27 pm

        If a random member of congress proposed scrapping the U.S. state and city governments in favor of complete Federal government control, with all congressmen elected at large in a proportional representation system, that would matter as much as what this guy is proposing (not at all, since it isn’t going to happen). A proposal to replace the entire system of government that the country has had since its founding is a no go.

        Also, since it would wreck things for the smaller parties that in total make up the vast majority of the Knesset, getting the Knesset to agree to this would be getting them to agree to retire their parties from politics. In short, you can’t get there from here politically.

  6. ToivoS
    February 29, 2012, 6:34 pm

    Interesting how often psychological terms are being increasingly used to describe the actions of Israel and her American supporters — hysterical, panic, delusional, psychotic, paranoid — to just name a few I recall from over the last few days. This is only natural given the complete lack of rationality in their actions and words over the last few days.

  7. Karl Dubhe
    March 1, 2012, 1:25 am

    “Many of the conference’s critics have pointed out that secular multi-ethnic states simply do not work”

    Quite right, after all, nations such as Canada are seething with hatred and violence because they try to keep the French Catholics and the English Protestants from killing each other.

    Or, maybe not.

  8. Talkback
    March 1, 2012, 10:02 am

    “According to the ADL, such a conference could only be interested in “the elimination of Israel as the national homeland of the Jewish people.” Dershowitz referred to it as an “anti-Israel hate fest.” Goldberg thinks organizers share “a goal with Hamas: the elimination of Israel as a homeland and haven for Jews.”” (Article)

    Funny if you think that Palestine as the national homeland of the Palestinian people was eliminated from Zionists which only had the goal to eliminate Palestine as a homeland and haven for ALL Palestinians, regardless of heritage or religion. I guess pro Israel support is an “anti-Palestine hate fest”. Or maybe even an “anti-Humanity hate fest.”

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