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Where conflict is news, stories of Israeli-Palestinian cooperation go missing

(JTA) — In January 2001, I was working at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, located on Kibbutz Ketura along the Israeli-Jordanian border. Since 1996, the institute has included Israeli, Palestinian, Jordanian, Moroccan, American and other college-age students from around the world. It also has several transboundary research centers, including our recently established Center for Climate Change Policy and Research, and our Center for Applied Environmental Diplomacy. 

From Jan. 21-27, 2001, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators at Taba, Egypt, came as close as they ever have to reaching an agreement. I thought the work of the Arava Institute would make a perfect story — with the Institute modeling what the negotiators were trying to achieve some 45 miles south of us, just across the Egyptian border. I gathered materials in Arabic, Hebrew and English about the institute and headed there. The Israelis were very suspicious but let me through, while the Egyptians took my materials and put me in a room with a soldier and his machine gun outside the door. Eventually, a military official made a call to Cairo, and I was given permission to proceed. 

In Taba, I found a group of reporters sitting at a round table. I made my pitch, inviting them to see the institute as an actualization of what the negotiators were working to achieve. Their response? I was told there is hard news, always to be covered, and soft news, if time permits and if it hasn’t been touched upon recently. My story was neither.

This past spring, I would once again be made aware of that lesson — I call it the “Asymmetry of the Sensational.”

In December 2020, Congress passed the Nita M. Lowey Middle East Partnership for Peace Act (MEPPA)Created through strong bipartisan effort, this is one of the most significant and innovative pieces of congressional legislation addressing the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. MEPPA authorizes up to $250 million over five years to promote economic cooperation and people-to-people programs; advance shared community building; and engender dialogue and reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians.

Within the legislation, Congress appointed a Partnership for Peace Fund Advisory Board. Senator Patrick Leahy named me to the board, based on my decades’ involvement with the Arava Institute. In February, over three days in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Nablus, the board experienced a universe of Palestinian-Israeli collaboration, described by a young Israeli woman at TechSeeds for Peace as “statements of defiance, and friendships as radical action.”

Another program we visited was at the Wolfson Medical Center in Holon, which runs an Advanced Trauma Life Support curriculum for Israeli and Palestinian trauma surgeons. These activities optimize trauma care for local communities, creates shared experiences and builds deeper respect and lasting partnerships. Reflecting on such teamwork, Dr. Adam Goldstein told an interviewer, “In the coming days, years and decades, I hope the selflessness, the lack of ego, the teamwork and diversity and mutual respect — can be a model for our entire region.” 

The goal is to bring these societies to a tipping point so they can see one another in a different light. These projects produce effective, measurable results that shape strong, respectful relationships between Israelis and Palestinians. The unending violence between Israelis and Palestinians signals they are stuck — they need an off-ramp. Greater knowledge of these programs is one way to that off-ramp.

With such positive results, why don’t more Palestinians and Israelis know about these programs and initiatives? Blame the Asymmetry of the Sensational.

In his poem “The Diameter of the Bomb,” the Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai explores how an individual act of violence expands from its “thirty centimeters” to “distant shores.” The multiplier effect of violence and extremist language far outweighs the affirmative consequences of MEPPA programs, as well as the work of more than 170 Israeli and Palestinian institutions in the Alliance for Middle East Peace (ALLMEP). On our MEPPA visit this past spring, it was so clear that, with all the positive results from these programs, fanatics need to do far less to have greater impact.

Why is the Asymmetry of the Sensational so effective? A part of our brain responds to trauma with fear, fight and flight responses. Violence and extremist voices play into and feed off that fear, creating a deadly spiral. That fear is real and leads to negative perceptions between people; the weekly headlines steer us in that direction. It is easy to see why there is so much distrust between Palestinians and Israelis.

The U.S. government over the years has invested millions of dollars, beyond MEPPA, in Palestinian-Israeli civil society. As large as $250 million is, it’s not enough. The International Fund for Ireland spent $40 per person in Northern Ireland on MEPPA-type projects. This relatively large expenditure was critical in paving the way for the Good Friday Agreement, which ended three decades of violence between Protestants and Catholics. At present, only $2 per person is spent on Palestinian-Israeli enterprises. 

The international community needs to come together and coordinate vast increases in the support of these programs. That investment needs to be augmented by appointing someone whose sole task is to wake up every morning and focus on advancing peaceful co-existence between Israelis and Palestinians. Appointing a Liaison to Israeli-Palestinian Civil Society at the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem would signal a greater integration of MEPPA, related U.S. funding and current policy.

In addition, Israelis and Palestinians need to grasp that peace is not the final destination. It is a means and not an end. Peace does not erase all disagreements. The Good Friday Agreement did not end tensions between the two communities in Northern Ireland, but it did take violence, death and extremism out of the equation so that a healthier reality could emerge. 

MEPPA and ALLMEP create an essential step in that direction, with Palestinians and Israelis building mutual trust through their engagements with one another. Tareq Abu Hamed, the executive director of the Arava Institute, makes that point. “Water is not the scarcest resource in the Middle East, trust is,” he says. “We build trust between students and between researchers.”

Differences may remain, but trust creates the will to work together to overcome those gaps. Trust is fundamental to generating the conditions for Israelis and Palestinians to have the better future they deserve.  

In the Asymmetry of the Sensational, one violent act or extremist statement quickly travels far and wide. We need to reverse that asymmetry and amplify quieter, transformative, positive actions between Palestinians and Israelis.


The post Where conflict is news, stories of Israeli-Palestinian cooperation go missing appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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New Faculty Campaign Aims to Show Solidarity With Jewish Students

Anti-Israel students protest at Columbia University in New York City. Photo: Reuters/Jeenah Moon

Over 1,000 university professors will participate in a new campaign to show solidarity with Jewish students experiencing levels of antisemitism that are without precedent in the history of the United States, the Academic Engagement Network (AEN), which promotes academic freedom, announced on Tuesday.

Titled “KeeptheLightOn,” the initiative comes amid a reckoning of congressional investigations, lawsuits, and civil rights inquiries prompted by an explosion of antisemitic discrimination at some of America’s most prestigious universities. It will see the formation of a new group, the Faculty Against Antisemitism Movement (FAAM), comprising professors from across the US who will pressure senior administrators at their schools to address anti-Jewish hatred as robustly as other forms of racism.

“We have written books, op-eds, and articles, but they are not penetrating the echo chamber of anti-Zionist antisemitism,” Southwestern University English professor Michael Saenger said in a press release. “As with previous protest movements, visual displays are sometimes necessary to get people to stop demonizing marginalized groups. We need to respond to bullying and hate, directed against ourselves and Jewish students, more directly and more personally: by visibly advocating for a university that treats Jews as people, and that treats Israel as a nation.”

As part of the campaign, FAAM professors will leave their office lights on after hours to “publicly demonstrate their commitment to fighting antisemitism.” AEN added on Tuesday that the lights will “also symbolize the faculty’s commitment to ‘light a fire’ under administrators to ensure a better academic year ahead.”

“Keep the Light On” was inspired by University of California, Berkeley professor Richard Hassner, who last month held what was widely believed to be the first teacher “sleep-in” protest of antisemitism, AEN said. For two weeks, Hassner lived in his office until administrators agreed to stop an anti-Zionist group’s blockade of a campus foot-bridge which made it impossible for Jewish students to cross without being verbally abused.

Numerous Jewish faculty members at other campuses have also begun stepping up and demanding a change. Some have organized faculty trips to Israel. Others have cobbled their peers together to form groups — such as Yale’s Forum for Jewish Faculty & Friends and Indiana University’s Faculty and Staff for Israel — which have since grown exponentially and will serve as a well of support for FAAM.

“The FAAM initiative is both a distressing sign of the times and a hopeful symbol for the future not only for Jews but also for the academy,” Smith College professor and AEN advisory board member Donna Robinson Divine said. “An academy that has become the core location for an activism promoting social justice cannot sustain its credibility by tolerating hostile attacks against its Jewish student and faculty. Nor can education leaders preserve the legitimacy of the universities over which they preside by ignoring the recycling of this old and dangerous hatred. Rooting out antisemitism in classrooms, lecture halls, and social gatherings is thus as important for Jewish students and faculty as it is for the academy and the nation.”

As The Algemeiner has previously reported, Jewish college students have never faced such extreme levels of hatred. Since Oct. 7 — when Hamas-led Palestinian terrorists invaded Israel, massacred 1,200 people, and kidnapped 253 others as hostages — they have endured death threats, physical assaults, and volleys of racist verbal attacks unlike anything seen in the US since the 1950s.

Many college officials at first responded to the problem sluggishly, according to critics, who noted universities offered a host of reasons for why antisemitic speech should be protected even as they censored students and professors who uttered statements perceived as being conservative. At the same time, progressive thought leaders came under fire for hesitating to acknowledge a swelling of antisemitic attitudes in institutions and organizations reputed to be champions of civil rights and persecuted minority groups. One recent study found that US universities have demonstrated an “anti-Jewish double standard” by responding to Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel and the ensuing surge in campus antisemitism much less forcefully than they did to crimes perpetrated against African Americans and Asians.

The situation changed after three presidents of elite universities were hauled before the US House Committee on Education and the Workforce to account for their handling of antisemitism and said on the record that there are cases in which they would decline to punish students who called for a genocide of the Jewish people. The stunning admissions prompted the resignations of Elizabeth M. Magill as president of University of Pennsylvania and eventually of Claudine Gay, Harvard University’s former president, who would not leave until a series of reporters exposed her as a serial plagiarist.

The US Congress is currently investigating whether several colleges intentionally ignored discrimination when its victims were Jewish. On Wednesday, its focus will shift to Columbia University, where Jewish students have been beaten up and harassed because they support Israel. The school’s president, Minouche Shafik, is scheduled to testify, and the event promises to be a much scrutinized affair.

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

The post New Faculty Campaign Aims to Show Solidarity With Jewish Students first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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Adath Israel and Beth David: a pair of Conservative synagogues in Toronto narrowly decided against becoming one

It was close, but Toronto synagogues Adath Israel and Beth David will remain separate entities after Beth David’s vote on amalgamation fell short of the required two-thirds threshold. Adath Israel, the larger of the two Conservative synagogues by membership and facility size, voted overwhelmingly on April 14 to amalgamate, with 91 percent in favour. But […]

The post Adath Israel and Beth David: a pair of Conservative synagogues in Toronto narrowly decided against becoming one appeared first on The Canadian Jewish News.

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Amid Dimming Hopes That This Year Will Be in Jerusalem, Jews in Ethiopia Prepare for World’s Largest Seder

Jewish women in Ethiopia sort through grain to be used in baking matzot. Photo: Struggle to Save Ethiopian Jewry (SSEJ)

The Jewish community in the embattled region of Gondar, Ethiopia is preparing for the world’s largest Passover Seder this year, with nearly 4,000 Ethiopian Jews residing in camps and awaiting immigration to Israel expected to attend.

Over 80,000 matzot have been baked by members of the community over the past several weeks in preparation for the holiday, Jeremy Feit, the president of the Struggle to Save Ethiopian Jewry (SSEJ) aid group, told The Algemeiner. A smaller Seder, with almost 1,000 attendees, will take place in the capital of Addis Ababa.

The Jewish holiday of Passover, which celebrates the Biblical story of the Israelites’ escape from slavery in Egypt, will begin next Monday evening and end the following Tuesday.

A portion of the 80,000 matzot for use during Passover in Ethiopia. Photo: Struggle to Save Ethiopian Jewry (SSEJ)

Past Passover Seders in Ethiopia have provided attendees a rare opportunity to partake in the traditional feast, offering some their first ever taste of meat — a luxury they could not otherwise afford. But according to Feit, food price hikes of 50 percent to 100 percent have meant that this year’s feast will largely consist of potatoes and eggs.

“With the extreme price increases and the resulting hunger, the community will feel the intensity as they pray to celebrate the Seder next year with their families in Jerusalem,” Feit said.

The Seder comes on the heels of an airlift of medical supplies for the beleaguered community, facilitated by SSEJ. Ten pallets of aid were delivered to a medical clinic established by the group a year ago in Gondar, serving 3,300 children and 700 elderly. The aid was dedicated in memory of former US Sen. Joe Lieberman, who served as SSEJ’s honorary chairman and who passed away during the weeks-long airlift operation.

SSEJ, which is based in the US  and entirely volunteer-run, is the only provider of humanitarian aid to Jews in Ethiopia. The group aims to mitigate some of the hunger ravaging the community by providing more than 2.5 million meals per year, prioritizing very young children, pregnant and nursing women, and students at a local yeshiva, who Feit said were often “so hungry they would faint in class.”

SSEJ and its leaders have assisted around 60,000 Ethiopians immigrate to Israel, more than the total number brought to the Jewish state during its storied military operations in 1984 and 1991.

Jewish men in Ethiopia need the dough that will be baked into matzot. Photo: Struggle to Save Ethiopian Jewry (SSEJ)

According to Feit, some 13,000 Jews still remain in Ethiopia. Recent years have seen several hundred Ethiopian Jews immigrate to Israel at a time, especially during periods of violent civil strife, but even that trickle has dried up following the brutal Oct. 7 attack by Hamas on southern Israel.

“The average person in Gondar and Addis Ababa has been waiting to make aliyah for 20 years,” Feit said, using the Hebrew term for immigration. “They left their villages with the thought that Israel was going to bring them in. And they’ve been left since as internally displaced refugees.”

Feit said the decades-long wait is especially painful for those with first-degree relatives in Israel, and is further compounded for those with relatives serving in the Israeli military.

“Jews in Ethiopia are extremely concerned about their [family members’] welfare as the IDF [Israel Defense Fores] battles Hamas terrorists” in Gaza, he explained. “They are especially concerned given the vastly disproportionate number of Ethiopian Jewish soldiers killed in Israel during the current conflict.” Jews in Ethiopia, he averred, comprise “one of the most Zionist communities in the world.”

Since Oct. 7, there has been no indication as to how many Ethiopian Jews will be brought to Israel and when. Those with relatives in Israel were struck with another blow when Israel’s economy took a hit following the Hamas onslaught, and many of those who rely on remittance from their loved ones in Israel stopped receiving money.

“This has left the Jews in Ethiopia in a dire situation, with food and medical care hard to come by. Living in squalor, without access to clean water, electricity, or even bathrooms, the malnourished Jews in Ethiopia suffer untold horrors,” Feit said.

Despite the grim depiction, Feit struck a more positive note about the upcoming holiday.

Ethiopian Jews eating matzot in synagogue last year. Photo: Struggle to Save Ethiopian Jewry (SSEJ)

“Given that most of the year they’re feeling despair at their lack of redemption, at least Passover is a time to celebrate the possibility of redemption and reunification,” he said. “Being able to celebrate with thousands of their friends and family members in a joyous celebration of Passover is a welcome relief.”

The post Amid Dimming Hopes That This Year Will Be in Jerusalem, Jews in Ethiopia Prepare for World’s Largest Seder first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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