Finding the high road

My first experience of Israel involved a Sheraton hotel suite and two police officers carrying submachine guns.

Towards the end of the 11 years I spent living in Qatar, a suite in the Doha Sheraton where my dad worked was converted into a makeshift Israeli consulate. It was during the mid ’90s and I was just old enough to begin to understand the level of hatred many Arabs and Israelis feel for each other. I use the word “many” on the optimistic off chance I may someday meet a significantly large group of Arabs or Isralies who don’t secretly or overtly wish the other side would just disappear.

The 16 years I spent living in the Middle East taught me that the last thing anyone on either side of the Arab-Israeli conflict is interested in is dialogue.

Anyone who takes a strong stance on the conflict inevitably has to decide how to think about the murder of civilians, and the instinctual reaction is to downplay the killing of those you—even if only loosely—identify as sympathising with your enemy.

Last week, a number of groups, including Queen’s for Palestinian Human Rights, sponsored a talk by Uri Davis, a Jewish Palestinian scholar who describes Israel as an apartheid state.

I can think of at least one reason why QPHR jumped at the chance to sponsor Davis: Irshad Manji.

Last year Queen’s Hillel and a number of other campus groups helped bring Manji to Queen’s. I don’t think for a second that both speakers are equally credible—despite disagreeing with some of what Davis has to say, I find him to be far less of a shameless self-promoter. But the effect of bringing in each speaker was roughly the same. Hillel helped bring a speaker who could say ‘Look, I’m Muslim, but I’m criticizing Palestinians, therefore I must be credible.’ QPHR helped bring a speaker who could say ‘Look, I’m Jewish, but I’m criticizing Israel, therefore I must be credible.’ Both groups are well within their rights to do this, but the end result is, when I hear representatives from either group say they’re bringing these speakers to try and foster dialogue, I simply don’t believe them.

If these groups were truly interested in fostering dialogue, they would stop talking about how great dialogue is and start talking to one another. I’m tired of waiting for someone to remember that the high road does indeed exist—that it is possible to pick up the phone, call someone you disagree with and say ‘Let’s discuss this instead finding a roundabout way to lob the occasional cheap shot.’

So here’s the challenge to Hillel and QPHR: find some way to connect. Hold an open forum where you can argue with one another instead of getting outside speakers to do it on your behalf. Even if the whole thing deteriorates into a shouting match or popularity contest, you’ll at least have looked each other in the eyes. Even if you cooperate on a project completely unrelated to the Arab-Israeli conflict, it’s a good start. Hold a joint charity event for the Queen’s Food Bank, for example. Just give us jaded members of the Queen’s community reason to believe that you’re ready to do more than just subscribe to an antagonistic status quo.

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