Thursday, April 22, 2010

A Two State Solution - Matters of Perspective

I'd like to bring your attention to the blog of Professor Stephen Healey, a dean at the University of Bridgeport.  His prior position was as Associate professor of World Religions and it was due to his expertise in that field that I originally met Stephen.  We both spoke on a panel at a World Religions day at Greens Farms Academy, Westport last year, me sharing some core beliefs of Judaism and he sharing some core teachings of Buddhism.  He subsequently visited our Comparative Religion class at Merkaz, our Hebrew High School program, this year, to introduce core concepts in Buddhism to students there.

Earlier this week I spoke at the University of Bridgeport on Jewish perspectives on a two-state peace in the Middle East.  While I offered some of my own perspectives on what such a peace may look like, based on some pragmatic assessments on what Israel might or might not ever be willing to contemplate as part of a peace settlement, I also attempted to convey a range of Israeli and Jewish perspectives, covering more left and right wing points of views, secular and religious Zionist perspectives.  In doing so, my goal was to share, before an almost entirely non-Jewish audience, what the Israeli side of the issue looks like, in its diversity, and the kind of beliefs, concerns, and demands that 'the other side' needs to be aware of and understand if we are to be able to move forward toward peace.  Professor Healey was the respondent to my presentation, before we took some questions from the audience during which I was pleased to hear respectful and thoughtful critique and alternative points of views from members of the Muslim community that our Tent of Abraham program has begun to establish trusting friendships with.  The tone of the conversation was very much about being able to express and hear this variety of perspectives, without anyone feeling the need to 'win' the debate.

I look forward to being able to continue the learning and dialog in contexts such as these.

Below is Professor Healey's summary of the evening.  You can read more from his thoughtful blog, RITN: Religion in the News here:

Tonight in an event at the University of Bridgeport, I had the good pleasure to hear Rabbi Rachel Gurevitz’s views of the two-state solution for Israel and Palestine. Gurevitz serves as a rabbi at Congregation B'nai Israel in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

Gurevitz began her presentation with a reflection on perspective. She argued that, depending on one’s perspective, the founding of the modern state of Israel is either a great blessing or a great catastrophe. Neither perspective, she said, is truer than the other; both are true insofar as they define the perspective from which the founding of Israel is viewed.

She expressed strong support for the two-state solution, which she described as a return to the borders of 1967, with some additional land swaps to be negotiated. For that to be possible from a Jewish perspective, she argued, security issues would need to be dealt with in a decisive fashion. There is an existential feeling of the threat of violence among Israelis. Israelis needs to be convinced that violence is contained and will not spread as a result of a return of territory. She added that religious and political ideologies make accomplishing this quite difficult. She also identified three additional issues that will make the path to peace a challenging way: that there should be no preconditions to beginning a dialogue about the two-state solution, that regional issues are interrelated with Israel-Palestine, and that from a Jewish perspective Palestinian refugees cannot be settled permanently in Israel. Tough news, but this is where real dialogue about this issue begins.

She concluded by holding out the prospect for peace, and referred to J Street, which is dedicated to finding a secure Middle East Peace. J Street also conducts polling to identify Jewish attitudes toward issues related to peace. She asked the audience to seek to identify a broad range of Jewish perspectives, and not to conclude that one view—even if it does receives most media attention—adequately represents the feelings, fears, hopes, and aspirations of the entire Jewish community.

Rabbi Gurevitz’s approach demonstrated, at least for me, that being committed to a perspective does not preclude, but may even facilitate, engagement with other points of view.

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