In this week’s edition of the Jewish Exponent, Philadelphia’s Jewish weekly, an op-ed by the leadership of the Zionist Organization of America of Greater Philadelphia attacks FPRI and the National Liberty Museum for sponsoring our recent “Conversation on the Future of Israel and Palestine” with the head of the PLO delegation in Washington DC, Ambassador Maen Rashid Areikat, and attacking me (in my capacity as moderator) for standing silent while the Ambassador advocated what the ZOA calls “ethnic cleansing” of Jews from the West Bank.
In advance of publication, I was given an opportunity by the editor of the Jewish Exponent to write a counterpoint, which I chose not to do. I explained to the editor that if I were the editor of the Exponent I would not publish such rants, adding that FPRI’s touchstone is the line from Talleyrand “above all, no zeal,” whereas the writers of that op-ed are all zeal, and I did not wish to be paired with them.
I went on to explain that the purpose of the program was to see whether this representative of the Palestinians thought that a two-state solution was still possible, and how it might be brought about.
Judging by the reaction of the audience (which seemed to be predominantly Jewish, incidentally), the program was well received, which is not to say they agreed with Ambassador Areikat’s statements.
I also provided the editor a link to the video of the event so that he and his readers could judge for themselves. You can access it here. (The editor apologized for not sending a reporter to cover the event despite my personal invitation to do so in advance of the event.)
I did not mention to the editor that one of the writers, Steve Feldman, executive director of the ZOA, called me a few days before the event to tell me he thought it was “despicable” that we should host the PLO representative, and that we should cancel the event. When I replied that we would not be canceling the event, he said that he and his colleagues would like to attend but refuse to pay the $10 admission fee “on principle.” I invited him and his colleagues to attend as my guests. This should tell you that the man’s mind was already made up before he even attended the event.
As regards the charge about “ethnic cleansing” of Jews, it is simply without merit. Note this definition of ethnic cleansing from Wikipedia: “Ethnic cleansing is the systematic forced removal of ethnic or religious groups from a given territory by a more powerful ethnic group, with the intent of making it ethnically homogeneous.” The envisaged removal of Jewish settlers from the West Bank would be conducted by the Israeli government itself, not by the Palestinians, and it would be done in the context of a peace agreement that provided for the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside the Jewish state of Israel. By any reading of the definition of ethnic cleansing, this is not ethnic cleansing. If it were ethnic cleansing, then the removal of Jewish settlers from Gaza by Ariel Sharon was ethnic cleansing, as was the removal of Jewish settlers by Menachem Begin from the Sinai in the context of the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace agreement.
A more erudite but lengthy analysis of the use and abuse of the term ethnic cleansing is provided by our fellow Adam Garfinkle in a new essay we posted last night. You can access it here.
Of course, we have hosted many programs on Israel and Palestine, including –
- an entire history weekend for teachers on “Teaching Israel and Palestine.” All the videos and texts from that weekend are available here.
- a talk by Shai Feldman, director of the Crown Center for Middle East Studies, Brandeis University, on The Two-State Solution: Dream or Delusion?
- Ron Granieri’s March 2017 interview with Nimrod Novik of our Board of Advisors on the prospects of a two-state solution. Nimrod is an FPRI alum who went on to become special advisor to then-Prime Minister Shimon Peres.
The airing of differing points of view is essential to the work of any think tank, and I don’t think there is anything to apologize for in connection with this event.