Some Good News, Courtesy of the Young

The Hour

By Leonard Fein

Published February 02, 2007, issue of February 02, 2007.

Go tell it on the mountain: There’s good news this otherwise dismal winter.

As Israel’s foreign minister (and deputy prime minister), Tzipi Livni, said at the biannual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last week, pretty much every approach to peace between Israel and the Palestinians has been tried — and has failed. There was the step-by-step approach of Oslo, with its emphasis on confidence-building; there was the whole kit and caboodle approach of Camp David, in 2000; there was Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005. While all three failed, the two-state conception that lies at their heart survives. It is battered and bruised, with growing numbers on both the right and the left now promoting a one-state solution. (On the left that means one “secular democratic state” between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River; on the right it means one Jewish state covering Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.) Exhaustion, too, must be counted among the enemies of the two-state conception; the hopelessness among Palestinians and the gloom among Israelis, both Jewish and Arab, has generated a fatalistic cynicism that doubts any slogan, any program for progress towards peace.

But polls show that a large majority of both Israelis and Palestinians continue to favor a two-state solution. They may, of course, doubt the capacity of their leaders to get from here to there, and they may differ, even sharply, on the parameters of the two states — on what should be the fate of the Palestinian refugees, about Jerusalem, about borders and so forth — but the core concept lives.

Good news: A movement called One Voice now seems to have taken root. One Voice is an effort to mobilize both Jews and Palestinians to endorse a two-state solution and to persuade their friends and neighbors to do the same, and it has so far registered more than a quarter of a million people from both sides as signatories of its proclamation denouncing violence and calling for an end to the conflict based on two states living side by side in peace and security.

More to the present point, One Voice was a star participant at this year’s Davos meeting. The remarks by Livni, Mahmoud Abbas and Shimon Peres at a plenary session chaired by the founder of the World Economic Forum, Klaus Schwab, were preceded by video messages from One Voice activists in Tel Aviv, Ramallah and East Jerusalem. From rooms apparently packed with hundreds of mainly young (20s and 30s) supporters, four statements were read out demanding an end to “excuses and delays,” insisting that attention be paid to “the moderate majority” in both societies. (A summary of the proceedings is available at www.onevoicemovement.org, and, if you’ve 67 minutes to invest — it’s well worth it — you can see and hear the entire session by going to www.weforum.org/anuualmeeting/webcasts and clicking on the “Session: Enough is Enough: Israel and the Palestinian Territories.”) The firm enthusiasm and the uncommon sobriety of the activists so clearly stood in contrast to the daily reports from the area that the observer wants to grab hold of it, to encourage it, to help transform it into a regional pandemic. (Peres took honors for the quip of the day: Speaking immediately after Livni, he began by saying: “Although Tzipi and I are in the same government, I agree with every word she said.”)

More good news, from an entirely different venue: The third-annual Limmud New York conference in Catskill, N.Y., has been well covered in the Jewish press. But not enough attention has been paid to the fact that this remarkable encounter is the product of an independent, overwhelmingly volunteer-driven organization, which managed with extraordinary efficiency to recruit some 800 participants — multigenerational and multi-denominational — along with 100 or so “presenters” for three-plus days of intensive programming on topics theological, political, cultural and everything else as well. (Reviewing the program, I was reminded of the apocryphal professor who assigned his students a paper on “the universe and related problems.”) Those who lament the American Jewish condition should try to come to Limmud next year and soak up a bit of the abundant energy it generates.

And more still, evidence that our community is, now and then, thoughtful, responsible and mature. The Union of Progressive Zionists is a proud member of the Israel on Campus Coalition, an effort of 31 organizations large and small working to advance Israel’s interests on college campuses. The UPZ, though among the smaller members of the coalition, occupies an important niche: It demonstrates that one need not choose between being politically progressive and being a Zionist; these days, given the “fashionable” anti-Zionism on the left, that’s a major contribution.

Some weeks back, the UPZ sponsored a college tour by an Israeli organization called Breaking the Silence, a group of Israeli ex-soldiers who report on the excesses and even, sometimes, atrocities of the Israel Defense Forces. Predictably, the Zionist Organization of America, ever blind to nuance, demanded the UPZ’s expulsion from the ICC (but later modified that demand). It was joined by an even huffier American Jewish Congress (yes, how the mighty have fallen), and for a time it seemed as if the UPZ would get the ax for having violated the standing rule against washing your dirty linen in public. In the end however, the eight-member ICC steering committee (which includes Aipac and the American Jewish Committee among others) voted unanimously not only not to expel the UPZ but also not to monitor the campus programming of ICC member organizations and not to revisit the criteria for membership in the ICC.

Good sense being in short supply these days, it is worth praising it when it shows up. And to note, with delight, that all three items in this uncharacteristically jolly report derive from the actions of young people.



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