In a historic address to the American Jewish Committee this past July, Secretary of State John Kerry called on U.S. citizens to build a “great constituency for peace” in support of his nine-month goal to facilitate a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Our screening of The Other Son on Nov. 6th, the product of an unprecedented two-month collaboration between leaders from Georgetown Israel Alliance and Students for Justice in Palestine, facilitated by J Street U Georgetown, opened the door for dialogue and marked a strong first step in building this constituency here on campus. Attended by nearly 100 students and accompanied by joint statements from leaders of all three organizations as well as Georgetown’s Rabbi and Imam, the evening was a powerful rallying cry for peace.
Unfortunately though, the news coverage that followed, including editorials in the Voice and The Hoya, has largely neglected the event’s success in favor of fixating on Georgetown SJP leaders’ decision to withdraw their official co-sponsorship just 24 hours before the event, under pressure from other SJPs across the country. Although unable to represent their organization in name, the SJP leaders’ hard work and continued participation in the event as individuals was a testament to their deep investment in our shared cause.
If any criticism should be dealt, it should not be directed at the leaders of SJP on our campus.
Rather we should direct it at the unintentionally counterproductive “anti-normalization” trope championed by many in the broader SJP community across the country—the trope that motivated the SJP’s withdraw from official co-sponsorship and unless debunked, may continue to undermine a just resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In his op-ed in The Hoya last week, Albert Doumar, the President of SJP at Georgetown, wrote that the practice of “anti-normalization” dictates that for any dialogue to occur among Israelis, Palestinians, and their supporters abroad, both parties must “first agree on two basic principles: that Israel should end all forms of discrimination against Palestinians…and that Israelis and Palestinians are not equally powerful parties.”
Our collaboration with GIA and SJP was premised almost exclusively on inspiring action to correct these fundamental injustices. SJP is right that there exists an egregious power imbalance between Israelis and Palestinians. They’re right that Palestinians live under a dehumanizing occupation that bars them their basic freedoms. And they’re right that this atrocious reality must end—both for the sake of Palestinian national sovereignty and for preserving a Jewish and democratic Israel. But their tactic of studiously avoiding “unequal” dialogue is misguided and downright destructive to the vital goal of bringing about a just solution. Why engage in discourse if the ideological outcome is predetermined? How can you have controversial dialogue with people with whom you already agree?
For his negotiations with the Israelis, many on the far-left view Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as complicit in normalization and thus a puppet of the occupation. But absent his efforts towards a successful agreement, what hope exists for the realization of Palestinian national aspirations? Without negotiations, we could kiss our shared dream of a sovereign Palestinian state goodbye, forced to accept that very power imbalance as an eternal reality. While it’s true that Abbas must make painful concessions on behalf of the Palestinians, many of whom will be justifiably upset, there is no other viable avenue to end the occupation. Without communication, oppression can only persist and exacerbate, as the ignorance and hatred generated by non-interaction continue to fester.
We find ourselves at a pivotal moment in the history of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. Secretary of State John Kerry has demonstrated a remarkable personal commitment—unparalleled by any secretary before him—to bring about a two state solution to the conflict, the only solution that honors the aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians. With each passing day, our window for opportunity continues to shrink and the people continue to suffer.
As part of J Street U’s “2 Campaign,”—dedicated to demonstrating real support for two states—thousands of people are organizing across the country to demonstrate to the rest of our leaders that supporting a two-state solution is not a political risk, but the only conceivable outcome.
To leaders of SJP, GIA, and all those on campus who believe in justice—in name and in practice—we must continue growing this open dialogue to build the constituency our Secretary needs.