NYU sees growing dialogue on Middle East issues

Debate on Palestinian issues at US college takes place without protests.

jp.services1 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
NEW YORK - A Middle East dialogue session held at New York University Monday took place without the protests and the uproar typical of such events on campuses across America. Long been seen as hotbeds of polarization on the Middle East - Jew vs Muslim, and Arab vs Israeli - some schools are also seeing new groups devoted to dialogue. NYU is a leading example. Monday's discussion was devoted to the debate among diaspora Palestinians on issues such as the right of return, Israel's security concerns, and strategies for a peaceful resolution to the conflict. The two speakers represented opposite sides of the Palestinian spectrum. Rafi Dajani from the Washington-based American Task Force on Palestine presented a practical, moderate approach on a range of issues, whereas Riham Barghouti, a member of the NYC Campaign for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, a founding member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel and Adalah-NY, presented an extreme leftist approach that favors boycotts of Israel as well as a one-state solution to the conflict. The two panelists disagreed on everything from the refugee problem to tactics and their visions for the future of the region. Dajani was a strong advocate for a practical approach to a two-state solution. This includes making a distinction between the "right" and the "return" when it comes to the right of return for Palestinian refugees. "We believe that this is a right for Palestinians, but don't believe that right can be fully implemented if there is a two-state solution," said Dajani. "There has to be an acknowledgement of Israel in its contribution to the refugee problem... Conditions were created that made some Palestinians leave, and this needs to be acknowledged." Dajani spoke of the absence of Palestinian voices in places where "decisions are made," namely in Washington. "We decided to engage the political system, since we felt this is where our talents lie." This includes engaging the US Jewish community. "The conflict won't be ended without working with American Jews," Dajani said. "I have much more in common with Jewish Americans or with Israelis who believe in a two-state solution than with Palestinians who believe in one state." "There is an opportunity to come together, we can't do it without each other," he added. In contrast, Barghouti spoke aggressively of Israel as an "apartheid state," explaining why she thought boycotts and divestment would be effective ways to "end the occupation." Advocating a one-state solution, Barghouti said Israel could not be "both Jewish and democratic" because as a Jewish state "it denies Muslims their essential rights including the right of return. When Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu came to speak in September, Cindy Greenberg, executive director of the Bronfman Center for Jewish Life at NYU, worried the event would spark conflict. To her surprise, not only were there no protests, the Muslim chaplain at NYU, Khalid Latif, spoke following Netanyahu's talk and proceeded to lead a discussion on relations between Israel and Lebanon for the mostly Jewish and Muslim students who attended. Greenberg said she also expected no protests at an event commemorating Israel Independence Day in Washington Square. "There is something amazing happening at NYU," she said. "We have had a phenomenal year for Jewish-Muslim relations." Crucial to that has been the Middle East Dialogue Group led by Jordan Dunn, which sponsored Monday night's panel discussion, the last in a series over the past year that has included speakers from across the spectrum, conservative and left-wing Israelis as well as extreme and moderate Palestinians. The group not only sponsored a filming of Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against the West, a provocative film that gives an insider's view of radical Islam, but managed to get the Arab Students United and the Islamic Center at NYU to co-sponsor the event. "We try to push the envelope in both directions," said Dunn. This year Ramadan and Rosh Hashana coincided, so the group held a "Ramashana" party. NYU has seen less conflict zone when it comes to the Middle East than many US campuses. "NYU doesn't have the same environment, maybe that's why there has been more emphasis on dialogue," she said.