15 October 2007

14 October 2007 - Nusseibeh and Pogrund visit Harvard

Last Wednesday night, Harvard’s New Society Journal hosted a discussion with Al-Quds University President Sari Nusseibeh and INSPIRE (Tufts University) Global Fellow Benjamin Pogrund. The topic was “The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: The Challenges of Moderation,” and a strong crowd of about ninety students, faculty and community members turned out to hear their views on the prospects of peace.

Pogrund spoke about his experiences as a journalist in apartheid South Africa, where he was the deputy editor for the Rand Daily Mail, one of the most important anti-government newspapers of the time. He contrasted the Israeli-Palestinian situation with apartheid but concluding that if South Africa’s seemingly intractable problems could be solved, there was hope for Israel and Palestine as well.

Nusseibeh spoke about the ways in which both Israelis and Palestinians had historically shut down members of their community who wished to reach out to the other side. He said that what moderates could offer was a kind of intersubjectivity, inviting people to challenge their ideas of who they are and what they believe—not to change who they were, but to encourage them to open up to each other.

The questions that followed were very interesting. One member of the audience, an Orthodox Jew, asked Nusseibeh if Palestinians were willing to give up the right of return. He replied that Palestinians had a right of return, but that it had to be weighed against the right to freedom and independence. Morally as well as practically, he said, Palestinians had to choose the latter over the former.

Another Jewish student stood up and asked why the event had been co-sponsored by two pro-Israel groups on campus but no Arab or Palestinian groups. Before the panelists could answer, an Arab student jumped up and said that the campus Arab groups had been invited but had refused because Nusseibeh “is not a moderate.” He also complained, inter alia, that New Society is funded by an Israeli think tank.

His response, though intended to be disruptive, actually illustrated the challenges of moderation quite vividly. When one side is not prepared to entertain the possibility of dialogue, moderation is a high-risk strategy. Someone asked Nusseibeh and Pogrund how Jews and Arabs in the Diaspora could help, and they both said we should try to get along with each other. Well, we’ll keep on trying.

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