Sunday, November 25, 2007

Showing Good Faith In The Arab-Israeli Conflict

The following op-ed was published by The Day of New London on Sunday, November 25, 2007.

Showing Good Faith In The Arab-Israeli Conflict

By Alan Stein

The Arab-Israeli conflict has always attracted a tremendous amount of attention, to a large degree disproportionate to its true importance as shown in a recent article by Gunnar Hensohn and Daniel Pipes, "Arab-Israeli Fatalities Rank 49th," available online at In it they listed 48 conflicts in the last six decades that have resulted in more casualties. Few of those have attracted anything close to the attention given the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Certainly, the Arab-Israeli conflict has been a center of attention in the New London area, particularly with the Rev. David Good and his First Congregational Church of Old Lyme organizing numerous missions to Israel and the disputed territories, hosting visitors from those areas and running what they call a "Tree of Life Conference" each of the last three years.

Unfortunately, these activities have been counterproductive, presenting a distorted, one-sided picture of the conflict perpetuated by the six-decade-long Arab refusal to accept the existence of Israel.

These unhelpful activities were recently brought by the same people into the schools of Old Lyme and Old Saybrook under the guise of a cultural performance by a dance troupe until school officials, spurred on by parental complaints, appropriately canceled further events. Indeed, even before the complaints, one concerned principal told the troupe members to leave after they told students our government was "evil." Interviewed about the controversy on WTNH-TV, the Rev. Bruce Shipman said "it's very important to understand the issues, you know, to hear both sides of the story."

Shipman is right about the importance of hearing both sides of the Arab-Israeli conflict; it's too bad neither he nor his colleague David Good of the First Congregational Church of Old Lyme practices what he preaches.

In making his statement, Shipman wasn't really trying to get a hearing for both sides of the Arab-Israeli conflict; rather, he was defending bringing that particular program to the schools. He was wrong to defend that political program brought to the schools under false pretenses, a program in which the Al Ghad "dance" troupe also brought an offensive message of hate to the classrooms.

Children in public schools should not be subjected to guests telling them they not only hate Israel but also hate America; children in public schools should not be subjected to guests, under the guise of cultural understanding, telling them our American government is evil.

A teenager whose father was murdered by Palestinian Arab terrorists shouldn't be subjected to guests telling him and his classmates that if their fathers went into the disputed territories they'd be killed.

I've been to the misleadingly named "Tree of Life Conference on Israel and Palestine" all three years. Before the first, I saw the terribly unbalanced list of speakers and suggested the inclusion of at least some speakers who might present the Israeli viewpoint, but Good candidly responded that he was not interested in that kind of balance.

That first conference turned out to be so skewed that Mark Rosenbaum felt compelled to point out that when Israelis and Palestinian Arabs come together and agree everything is Israel's fault, that's not "conflict resolution." Rosenbaum is one of the founders of Americans for Peace Now, a group which is nominally Zionist but generally highly critical of the Israeli government. That he felt compelled to protest the bias is itself a strong indictment of the one-sidedness of that first Tree of Life Conference.

Never since has any participant who might contaminate the anti-Israel conference with even a hint of balance or reason been invited. Whatever hopes for reason remained after the 2005 Tree of Life Conference were dispelled by the 2006 and 2007 iterations, which made it clear the agenda isn't peace but is the elimination of the world's only Jewish state.

The theme in 2006 was exemplified by the title of a book written by Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi, "Original Sins: Reflection of the History of Zionism and Israel." No longer was it just alleged Israeli behavior being unfairly criticized; the very existence of the Jewish state was deemed immoral.

Fast forward to this year. The organizers of this year's conference scrounged around the world and came up with an obscure extremist from Holland named Hajo Meyer to claim Israel was worse than the Nazis. Meyer put forth the proposition, boldly displayed on a slide, "Jews are not a people."

Supporters of Israel have often been unfairly criticized for allegedly not recognizing the existence of a "Palestinian people." Israel's critics have never been shy about falsely accusing Israel and its supporters of that which they themselves are guilty.

It's unfortunate enough the Tree of Life Conference included none of the balanced narrative Bruce Shipman asserted was so important.

As a Jew at the conference, I gained some appreciation of what it would have felt like for an African-American, disguised under a white sheet, sitting through a meeting of the Ku Klux Klan. Not surprisingly, when I told some friends about the conference, one of them said he had images of the Klan floating in his head.

It's not surprising that some students in area schools were unhappy after the same people brought a "dance troupe" into their school under false pretenses, driving one of their victims out of the room, being found banging his head against his locker.

It is certainly the right of the organizers to produce unbalanced programs, even programs full of messages of hate, but they don't have the right to subject our children to them in our public schools.

Even outside public schools, efforts to promote peace are preferable to efforts which impede it; efforts to bring Arabs and Jews together are preferable to efforts which drive them apart; efforts which educate are preferable to efforts which misinform.

Let us have other groups put forth balanced programs, free of the hate with which the Al Ghad "dance" troupe and the "Tree of Life" conferences have been infused, that do what Shipman rightly asserted was so important, telling "both sides of the story."

The writer is president of PRIMER-Connecticut, a statewide, media monitoring organization composed of volunteers devoted to Promoting Responsibility in Middle East Reporting.

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