|From a Parents Circle website [Image Source]|
In a well-argued opinion piece that appeared in Haaretz a few days ago, Jonathan S. Tobin (opinion editor of JNS.org, a Contributing Writer at National Review, an editor at Commentary Magazine, and for a decade up to 2008 executive editor of The Jewish Exponent in Philadelphia) tackles the way America’s Jewish left
is deeply invested in a form of asymmetric dialogue that too often requires co-opting Jewish kids to denounce the sins of Zionism
In doing so, his essay, “It’s not about flags: The real problem with Jewish-Palestinian dialogue” [Haaretz, August 3, 2017] addresses issues that we have touched on when expressing the deep disquiet we feel about one particular left-oriented group called Parents Circle Families Forum. Readers not familiar with that exceedingly well-funded organization or our criticisms of it might start here: “Behind the facade at Parents Circle, messages that are deeply disturbing to bereaved families”.
whether most of what passes for interfaith or Jewish-Arab dialogue is something that can produce progress toward peace or is, instead, merely another proof of author Cynthia Ozick’s axiom, that “universalism is the parochialism of the Jews.”
In more straight-forward terms,
the real point of interest here is not the undoubted good intentions of those responsible or how tremendous the power that symbols like flags still have to engender passion. Rather, it is the blind faith that so many Jews have in the value of dialogue programs… Getting people from warring groups to know each other as individuals rather than symbols of fear and loathing can only help undermine stereotypes that fuel conflict… Since the impetus for dialogue between Arabs and Jews almost always comes from the latter, they tend to follow a familiar pattern: Arabs denounce Israeli oppression and the Jews nod in sympathetic agreement or fail to answer in kind about the actions of the Palestinians.
On this, Tobin, drawing on experiences as “a journalist who has covered dialogue programs for decades“, says that
what has always been clear – though usually not to the organizers – is the lack of symmetry between the two sides. Few if any Palestinian participants ever express doubt about the justice of their cause or feel obligated to temper their anger at what they consider to be the sins of Zionism. But even supporters of Israel who engage in these programs generally feel compelled to express criticisms of Israel or to show respect if not sympathy for the Palestinian Nakba narrative.
And there’s a clear take-away:
That isn’t the sort of dialogue that can help bridge the divide between the two peoples, let alone promote peace. True dialogue involves airing disagreement and promoting respect for differing narratives, not one side affirming the stance of the other… [T]he problem is that there is no comparable force in Palestinian politics to Peace Now, or J Street.
We had similar sentiments in mind when we wrote [“12-Jul-13: Behind the facade at Parents Circle, messages that are deeply disturbing to bereaved families“]:
We believe Parents Circle leverages our collective bereavement to secure funding for advancing a very specific and particular political line – a line even they concede is unrepresentative of Israel’s bereaved families. Reviewing the public statements of Parents Circle’s key figures over the past decade, a consistent and depressingly familiar political agenda emerges. The Israelis are the aggressors. The Palestinians are the victims. The occupation is at the heart of the conflict. And as for the role of the terrorists, their ideologies and decades of Arab rejectionist politics – that is simply absent. We sincerely support the right of individuals or groups promoting a political view of the conflict to express it in whatever manner they deem fit, and however much it may differ from ours. But exploiting bereavement to raise funds and to promote specific ideological positions is a different matter. The Parents Circle does just that…
Their message adopts the language of bereavement. But in reality it is highly political, and it is perceived that way by their audiences. We feel that, to a great extent, their message is calibrated to meet the expectations of funders.
[Click for our previous blog posts on Parents Circle.]
A final comment about dialogue: we have written several blunt but (in our opinion) polite and temperate public critiques of the Parents Circle message and activities over the past decade. As far as we can now recall, the only response we ever had was when one of its spokespeople, writing in the Jerusalem Post, said “the discourse that prevails in this country is extremely monologic, racist and aggressive, as evidenced by Frimet Roth’s article“. The article by Frimet [“The sin of forgiveness fervor“] that produced that offensive reaction is archived here.
It’s possible dialogue means something distinctive – and perhaps surprising – when they use the word.