NEW YORK (Dec. 18)
A conference of American Jewish progressives opened Sunday with a panel’s strong support of the U.S. move to begin talks with the Palestine Liberation Organization.
The endorsement, shared by the Palestinian speakers on the panel, was markedly different from the lukewarm reception given by the major American Jewish organizations to the U.S. decision to reverse its ban on contacts with the PLO.
But according to conference organizer Michael Lerner, that is the point of the conclave and his two-and-half-year-old magazine Tikkun, which is sponsoring the gathering.
“We want to say to the press and the world that the American Jewish leadership interviewed so often by the press does not speak for us,” Lerner, who is Tikkun’s editor, said at the opening session of the conference.
Lerner’s words were greeted with warm applause by the more than 1,500 people who packed a ballroom of Manhattan’s Penta Hotel.
His words also opened the way for open disagreement among the panelists. They included Edward Said, a literature professor at Columbia University and a member of the Palestine National Council; Ibrahim Abu-Lughod, a professor at Northwestern University who also sits on the PNC; Michael Walzer, a professor of social science at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton and a co-editor of Dissent; and Letty Cottin Pogrebin, founding editor of Ms. magazine.
MYTH OF JEWISH PARANOIA
Said, for instance, called on American Jewish intellectuals to become public “witnesses to the present” and testify about Israeli actions against Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, including shootings, the razing of houses and expulsions.
“There has to be a recognition and acknowledgement for the injustice done to our people by yous, in your name,” said Said.
Lerner countered by disputing traditional Palestinian assessments that Israeli security concerns are the product of paranoia.
“It is not paranoia when Jews hear over and over again in the Arab press, not of a two-state solution, but of a two-stage solution — with the second stage after statehood to be the liberation of the rest of Palestine.”
A galvanizing presence at the session was that of Moshe Amirav, a former Likud Knesset member.
Acknowledging Said, Amirav said Israelis need to be self-critical. He described his own defection from Likud to from a coalition of reserve officers and intellectuals who favor relinquishing the administered territories in the interest of security.
Amirav said he is willing to say of the PLO, “Let’s give them a chance.” However, what cannot be ignored, he added, are the “generations of suspicion of a second genocide based on repeated Arab assertions of ‘driving the Jews into the sea.’ “
The Tikkun conference will run through Tuesday, with major sessions on such topics as Zionism in the wake of the Palestinian uprising, black-Jewish relations and the future of liberal politics.