Letter: We need a more productive dialogue

I would like to comment on Rebecca Heller’s letter and Katya Gibel Mevorach’s column in last week’s S&B about the symposium “Transcending Conflict: Israel and Palestine.” Heller is correct in recognizing the symposium as a collaboration between Chalutzim and the Palestinian Solidarity Group, and that PSG reviewed the résumé of Maurice Roumani, a member of the Israel on Campus Coalition, prior to his invitation to speak. The disagreement between us lies in our interpretations of each group’s role, revealed by our recent letters. In my opinion, clearly different than Rebecca’s, Chalutzim largely holds responsibility for Roumani’s invitation, PSG for the visit of the Palestinian-American medical student Harb Harb. This corresponds to our groups’ presentations of candidates for speakers. Collaborations of this kind, especially first attempts, are bound to contain mistakes in their organization and execution. Despite the symposium’s successes, I view as a mistake the failure of myself and my partners to identify and address the disconnect in understanding of the roles of Chalutzim and PSG.
Gibel Mevorach, in her column, portrays my criticism of Roumani’s place in the symposium as “silly,” based on the fact that PSG has sponsored equally polemical speakers in the past. She fails to note, however, that never before have Chalutzim and PSG collaborated with the expressed goal of fostering dialogue. We do not deny that many members of our community have considered past PSG-sponsored speakers polemical. Yet, PSG did not sponsor such speakers with the central goal of dialogue promotion. Rather, we intended their talks to inform others of our opinions and present arguments for them. Roumani was an inappropriate choice to speak because he actively worked against our symposium’s goal of fostering dialogue.

Furthermore, Gibel Mevorach’s suggestion that students with “little to no knowledge about the Middle East and North Africa” have no business discussing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict stifles dialogue itself. Besides the inaccuracy of her assessment of students’ ignorance, I propose that even students with little knowledge of the area’s history can discuss many aspects of the conflict, like current events we witness daily in the news.

Finally, these letters prove that, despite Roumani’s visit, the central goal of the symposium, to foster dialogue about Israel-Palestine on our campus, has succeeded. More than three weeks after the symposium’s events, students and faculty continue to talk about the conflict and strategies for constructively discussing it. That in itself, no matter one’s political stance, should be regarded as a success.