06 February 2007

06 February 2007 - About this blog, about me

This blog will attempt to explore human rights issues that arise in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There are, in my view, two reasons for emphasizing human rights in the conflict: first, because human rights are intrinsically valuable, and if they are damaged anywhere they are damaged everywhere; and second, because I want to explore whether they can provide the basis for resolving the conflict.

My analysis proceeds on the basis of the following two assumptions:

Theoretical: The human rights of Israelis are equal to, and no different from, those of Palestinians. Both Israelis and Palestinians therefore have an equal duty to avoid violating the human rights of people on their own or the other side. Violations are to be judged not only by their severity and extent but also by their intent, and deliberate violations are to be viewed more harshly than accidental ones.

Political: The best—or the least bad—solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the two-state solution. The borders of the future Palestinian state will conform roughly to the “Green Line,” with minor adjustments. Jerusalem will be divided into two capitals, with possible international sovereignty over the Old City. Palestinian refugees abroad will have the right to resettle in the Palestinian state.

A bit about myself:

I am currently a first-year student at Harvard Law School. From 2002 to 2006, I worked as the speechwriter and researcher for Tony Leon MP, Leader of the Opposition in the Parliament of South Africa. Before that, I worked as a freelance journalist in South Africa, writing about local and international affairs. At Harvard I am employed part-time as a research assistant for Professor Alan M. Dershowitz.

The focus of my studies is international human rights law. Although I am largely occupied with the requirements of the first-year legal curriculum, I am also exploring my interest in human rights to the greatest extent possible. Last semester, I was a teaching assistant for a course on anthropology and human rights; this semester I am working on several related writing and research projects.

I have published numerous articles about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Some have been about conflict resolution; most have been reactions to overzealous—and often malicious or ill-informed—condemnations of Israel. Two of these articles gained considerable attention: one that ran in the San Francisco Chronicle shortly in Many 2002, and in the Mail & Guardian (South Africa) in September 2006.

Last year, I was awarded a Master of Arts with Distinction in Jewish Studies by the University of Cape Town. My thesis was entitled The Kasrils Affair: Jews and Minority Politics in the New South Africa. I am interested in the emerging phenomenon of Jewish dissent that seems to have been provoked by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—what motivates it and what its consequences are.

I have also been involved in interfaith activities aimed at encouraging positive dialogue among Muslims, Christians and Jews about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In 2003, for example, I organized a joint lecture and iftar feast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan at the Jewish community centre in Cape Town, with former Rand Daily Mail deputy editor Benjamin Pogrund as the main speaker.

In American politics, I have been a life-long Democrat. In college, I worked as an intern for former U.S. Senator Carol Moseley-Braun, and also for the Progressive Policy Institute (associated with the “New Democrat” wing of the party). I am currently a member of the Harvard Law School Democrats; however, I feel the party has a weak foreign policy and I disagree fundamentally with its approach to Iraq.

I am also a proponent of free trade and I believe that globalization is a profoundly positive thing, especially for the world’s poorest people. I am convinced that the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will help the Middle East “open up” internally and externally. I foresee a new age of skills- and commerce-driven economic growth, focused on Israel and the small Gulf states as international hubs.

Most of all, I am interested in what the Israeli-Palestinian conflict means for human rights, for international law, and for the prospects of human development more generally. In subsequent posts, I will attempt to address these issues in as direct a manner as possible. Among the topics that have been on my mind lately are the following:

-The role of transitional institutions: In 2003, I proposed that Israelis and Palestinians establish a permanent negotiating forum, of the type created in South Africa and Northern Ireland. A fellow student has recently suggested an Israeli-Palestinian version of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). Do these institutions have any prospect of succeeding in the Middle East?

-The role of Arab agency: as Ayaan Hirsi Ali noted in a recent interview on National Public Radio, a frequent theme in Arab/Muslim political dialogue over the past several decades has been that Israel, or America, or the West, is to blame for the Middle East’s misfortunes. The Palestinians have indulged in this “unreality” (Hannah Arendt) with dire consequences. How can this be changed?

-The possibility of a positive Palestinian nationalism: amidst the civil war unfolding in Gaza, it might seem naïve to contemplate a more positive and successful Palestinian nationalism. Former President Jimmy Carter has compared Israel’s policies in the occupied territories to South African apartheid (inappropriately)—but are there lessons of the anti-apartheid movement for the Palestinian struggle?

-The nature of campus debates: American college campuses are battlefields in the ideological war surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and reasonable debate seems to have been undermined not only by the vehemence of the arguments but also by the pervasive culture of political correctness. To what extent are professors, administrators and students blocking open, honest and fruitful dialogue?

That’s all for now. I will post regularly, as thoughts and opportunities arise.


At 8:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Joel
Great BLOG! How are you doing? Wish you'd come back to S Africa! Any chance of my getting a copy of your thesis on Ronnie K?

Gill Katz
Media Team - Israel

At 12:04 PM, Blogger Hugo said...

Hey man, was just wondering, did u borrow the title of your blog from Simon Blackburn's Truth:A Guide for the Perplexed?

Whether you did or not, it's really worth reading...



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