Guardian

Why is U.S. based Israel-Palestinian peace program, ‘Encounter’, legitimizing one-state solution?


This post was made possible by the first hand account of a friend who was one of  15-20 Jewish/Israeli  participants in a program in Bethlehem, sponsored by the group, Encounter.

The Encounter program is “dedi­cated to strength­ening the capacity of the Jewish people to be construc­tive agents of change in trans­forming the Israeli-Palestinian conflict [to enhance the] next generation’s…commitment to Israel.”

What they do:

“Founded by American rabbis, Encounter is a conflict trans­for­ma­tion orga­ni­za­tion, equip­ping…Jewish leaders from across the polit­ical…spectra with access to Palestinian perspec­tives. Encounter’s two-day lead­er­ship seminar bring Jewish partic­i­pants to the West Bank on tours to meet with Palestinian leaders in busi­ness, media, non-violence activism, educa­tion, and poli­tics so that our youth are more equipped and committed to act as informed change agents and less inclined to give up the “Israel project” alto­gether. [emphasis added]

Impact:

“We are reaching “tipping point” in terms of our cred­i­bility and repu­ta­tion among Jewish leaders from across the country. Encounter’s Executive Directors are invited to speak at forums and confer­ences nation­wide along­side AIPAC and Birthright Executive staff about “what it means to be pro-Israel” and “next gener­a­tion Israel engage­ment”. Encounter staff reach thou­sands of people through speaking engage­ments spon­sored by the…Jewish Theological Seminary…UJA-Federation-NY...New Israel Fundand numerous other synagogues…”

Core values:

“Encounter is an educa­tional orga­ni­za­tion that culti­vates informed Jewish lead­er­ship on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We do not take specific posi­tions regarding the outcome of the conflict….” [emphasis added]

Strategy:

“…we are not a dialogue orga­ni­za­tion. Encounter encour­ages partic­i­pants to listen to and absorb Palestinian narra­tives and claims…”

Encounter’s funders:

Foundation for Middle East Peace (promotes peace between Israel and Palestine, via two states, that meets the fundamental needs of both peoples.

The Ford Foundation

The Russell Berrie Foundation (Promoting the continuity of the Jewish people…)

Nathan Cummings Foundation (Rooted in the Jewish tradition…promotion of understanding across cultures…)

Naomi and Nehemia Cohen Foundaion (…promoting the welfare of the Jewish people.)

The Blaustein Philantropic Group (…strengthening Israeli democracy)

Righteous Persons Foundation (…promoting understanding between Jews and those of other faiths and backgrounds)

Bikkurim (an incubator of new Jewish ideas…a joint project of the Jewish Federations of North America and the Kaminer Family.)

The Germanacos Foundation (supports educational programs that utilize a broad range of perspectives to foster a critical scrutiny of society)

Dorot Foundation (The Foundation’s support for Social Change in Israel takes place through a partnership with the New Israel Fund.)

Lopatin Family Fund

Dobkin Family Foundation

Slingshot Fund (Slingshot’s mission is to strengthen innovation in Jewish life by developing next-generation funders and providing resources to leverage their impact in the Jewish community…by growing and supporting Jewish innovation)

Oreg Foundation

My friend provided me with the itinerary of her Bethlehem trip, scanned here:

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

Below, in bullet points, are my friend’s more important observations while participating in group discussions, in Bethlehem, with Palestinians. 

The following aren’t exact quotes, but accurately reflect her observations.

  • The Jewish participants spent the entire time listening to Palestinian views. There was never an opportunity by Jewish participants to even briefly explain the Jewish/Israeli narrative. Indeed, such ‘counter narratives’ were explicitly forbidden by the program organizers.
  • Not one Palestinian, when discussing their long-term vision for the region, advocated a two-state solution, nor expressed any empathy for Jewish aspirations.
  • Several presenters (such as ‘Comment is Free’ contributor Sam Bahour) quite explicitly advocated a one-state solution.
  • One Palestinian presenter, named Shirin, told us that, in the absence of a one-state solution, there is going to be a bloodbath. In response to this, most participants clapped. 
  • The resentment towards us (Jews/Israelis) was really intense. They clearly hate Zionism, and Zionists, with a passion.

To put this “peaceful” encounter, organized by Americans who fancy themselves progressive, in some perspective, note that one of the featured speakers was ‘Comment is Free’ contributor, Sam Bahour

Bahour is affiliated with ‘Al Shabaka’ (a group which opposes all Palestinian Authority negotiations with Israel), has signed the Stuttgart declaration calling for a one-state solution (a resolution signed by activists representing both Islamism and the radical left), and, in a previous CiF piece, sanitized the death and carnage of the 2nd intifada as a mere “civil uprising” which the Arab world would be wise to emulate.

Does it really need to be asked how anyone claiming the mantle of peace can legitimize the call for the end of the Jewish state?

At the end of the day, what programs like ‘Encounter’ truly represent are efforts to tell morally vulnerable U.S. Jews that their spiritual salvation, their moral redemption for the original sin of the Jewish state’s creation, lie in Israel’s complete capitulation.

Thankfully, the overwhelming majority of Israelis, indeed most Jews in the diaspora, realize that the Jewish state’s existence is simply not open for negotiation – her legitimacy, paraphrasing Abba Eban, is not a negotiable concession.

Her borders may be one day be somewhat redrawn, but the results of 1948 will never, ever be undone.

Perhaps, looking back at her Bethlehem”encounter”, my friend’s only fond memory will be the program’s complete irrelevance.  

16 replies »

  1. It’s very sad that so many philanthropic foundations get fooled into sponsoring such a one-sided program. It’s probably pitched to them in terms of political correctness. The Arabs must be laughing at us for the fact that we pay to send people to listen to their propaganda. No wonder that they think they just have to wait long enough and the Jewish state will collapse.

    Considering how many Jewish foundations are on the list, you can only say they are directly funding the destruction of the mission that they purport to uphold.

  2. “Encounter”. It sounds so promising. It sounds so mutual, so “two-sided”. It is a word redolent with the possibilities of dialogue, debate, to-and-fro, mutual thrashing out of ideas and sharing of stories.

    So why didn’t this happen? Why, instead, were the stories, views, perspectives and arguments of 50% of the participants overtly censored? How are you supposed to get to an understanding of the truth, particularly in a “conflict situation”, if all communication is one-way? How is *any* mutual understanding possible without reciprocal communication?

    In fact, this doesn’t sound like an “Encounter” at all. It sounds like a carefully planned, carefully orchestrated exercise in propoganda. While many of the organizers may have had, in their own way, the best of intentions, their little tour had more in common with some sort of minutely-choreographed North Korean government presentation than with the inquiring, robust, analytical approach of the free world.

    Notice also the alarming and insidious racism at work (towards both “sides”, as it happens). To the “Jews” – you are to shut up, you are wrong not because you are wrong, but because of who you are. (100% racist). To the “Arabs” – the romantic little Arab “narratives” are not to be challenged or properly discussed, because poor little child-like Arabs can’t take the normal cut-and-thrust of scrutiny and free speech like normal people. (100% racist).

  3. Hi All – Thanks for your interest in our work.

    To clarify, Encounter DOES NOT endorse or promote a One State solution although many and sometimes all of the Palestinian speakers that meet with our groups are moving increasingly in that direction. As North American Jews, our organization seeks to ensure that all North American and other Jews who care deeply about the future of Israel and the resolution of the conflict, have the opportunity to meet with Palestinians directly and hear what they are saying and advocating about the conflict. We neither contest nor endorse our speakers’ comments – but believe they are important to hear and for us to grapple with what they mean for us and how we advocate about the conflict.

    The point of our trips is to offer the often missing-piece, which is Palestinian voices, to enter the discourse for American Jews. Our staff hold diverse opinions on the subject, and as the daughter of Israelis – and one Holocaust survivor – I personally believe strongly in a two-state solution to the conflict and my commitment to this is strengthened, personally through this work. Furthermore, we have brought supporters at the highest levels of American Jewish leadership that would never participate in a trip that advocates a One-State solution – they understand that the purpose of our trips is to hear perspectives – many of which they disagree with! – of Palestinians.

    If we only talk to those with whom we already agree – there is unlikely to be much movement on the conflict.

    There is a fair critique about not visiting Jews as part of the program; originally when the program was founded (over 6 years ago), the idea was that this trip would “complement” existing Israel education. We have since seen a number of new paradigms emerge that do “dual narrative” tours and we are exploring them. I’ve only been with the organization a year, and as a small non-profit on a lean budget, it takes time to adjust program design but we are thinking about it indeed – for some of the reasons your raise above.

    Please feel free to email me at yona@encounterprograms.org: I would be happy to talk at length with you and your friend at any point. I only wish you’d reached out to “fact check” with me before drawing conclusions and doing so publicly.

    All best,
    Yona Shem-Tov, Executive Director – Encounter

    • Hi Yona,
      I don’t know what alternative universe you live in. I wouldn’t care if your group was undertaking the program that it does if there were Arab/Palestinian groups who were similarly spending money to send Arabs to listen to Jewish voices, But this universe does not exist. We get wall-to-wall hate from the Arab and Islamic world and all their Western sympathizers.

      Just because you are the daughter of Israeli’s it doesn’t qualify you propagate anti-Israel narratives. This is the classical “asajew” argument, and IDGAF.

      I too am a son of Israeli’s and both my Mother’s parents where Holocaust survivors (both my Mother’s parents families where decimated in the Holocaust) and my Father’s parents immigrated to Israel pre-independance and all his parents family members who stayed behind in German-occupied areas where murdered, but I TOTALLY disagree with you.

      In my humble opinion we should leave the advocacy of the Palestinian cause to the Arabs and their Western sympathizers. There are more than enough of them and they have plenty of money.

      The Israeli public and Jewish world is infinitely more accepting and accommodative of the Palestinian narrative than the Arabs are of us. We should we spend our scarce resources on helping our own community and not furthering our enemies.

      But I suppose at the end of the day you can’t get between a man and his paycheck. Your paycheck depends on you propagating what can only be described in terms of harming Israel’s interest, so your mind will never even see this plain fact.

      • “I wouldn’t care if your group was undertaking the program that it does if there were Arab/Palestinian groups who were similarly spending money to send Arabs to listen to Jewish voices, ”

        Exactly!

    • Ms. Shem-Tov your opus is so full of crap that one wonders how is it possible to put it into some sentences. Only one of your pearl of wisdom:

      If we only talk to those with whom we already agree – there is unlikely to be much movement on the conflict.

      Maybe you should let to do the talk with the enemy by the democratically elected governmement of Israel.

      … and as the daughter of Israelis – and one Holocaust survivor –

      Classic Ms. Shem-Tov.

    • Yona,

      Thanks for taking the time to reply.

      Please understand that, as an Israeli blogger, I often find it quite disconcerting when generally well meaning American/diaspora Jews legitimize Palestinian calls for a one state solution, either implicitly through an unlimited ‘right of return’, or more explicitly.

      Such a solution is a recipe for war, pure and simple, as the overwhelming majority of my fellow Israelis will fight any attempt to impose such an arrangement with everything in our power.

      So, my concern is with your organization’s trip to Bethlehem, in which you (whether by design or not) provided often impressionable young Jews with the sense that such a one state solution is a viable option.

      Perhaps I should have reworded my headline (its clear your org doesn’t “endorse” a one state solution as such), but I think its fair that you at least don’t reject it outright.

      I hope you would agree that some ideas are simply beyond the pale. For instance you would never (I’m sure) expose your participants to Palestinians who endorse acts of terrorist violence against Israeli civilians, would you?

      Well, similarly, I ask that you consider drawing similar red lines when it comes to discussions which implicitly endorse the end of the Jewish state.

      Finally, my friend, who wishes to maintain her anonymity, was quite disturbed by the program, not only because of the one state solution proposals, but due to the fact that she felt, as a Zionist Jew, her identity, and her history, was under attack by the Palestinian participants, and she didn’t have the opportunity to express herself at all.

      Our blog post was an opportunity for her views to be heard.

      Again, thanks for contacting us.

    • There will never be a conflict resolution to the Arab/Israel conflict (that’s its correct name) as long as the Arabs refuse to accept the legitimacy of Jewish sovereignty in the Holy Land. Borders are irrelevant.
      All your trips to meet Arabs in Judea and Samaria (the correct name) are a complete waste of time and money, and organised to facilitate job creation and inflate the self-importance of people such as yourself.

      Here’s an idea…why don’t you educate the Arabs about recent history, about Feisal’s declaration in a letter to Felix Frankfurter in 1919, that “The Arabs, especially the educated amongst us, look upon the Zionist movement with deepest sympathy. Their claims are modest and proper….”
      That was the claim to the entire area of Palestine, which included Gaza and what is now Jordan.
      Palestine has now been partitioned twice, the first time, illegally, by the British in 1921 to create Jordan, leaving the so-called West Bank exclusively for Jewish sovereignty, and then again, in 2005, when Israel pulled out of Gaza, so there are actually 3 states carved out of the area reserved for the Jewish people.
      One can say that there is a 22 state “solution”…21 Arab states and one Jewish state.
      The Israeli government should annex Judea and Samaria, Israel’s territory indisputably in international law, and offer compensation to the Arabs to leave and join their brethren in Jordan, the country reserved for Palestinain Arabs to exercise their sovereignty.

      The money you scrounge from your funders would be better spent educating the uneducated, including yourself, as to Jewish rights in international law in their historic homeland.

  4. Yona, I changed the title of my post to “legitimized”, from the original “endorsed”, to more accurately reflect your group’s activities. Again, thanks for the dialogue.

  5. what programs like ‘Encounter’ truly represent are efforts to tell morally vulnerable U.S. Jews that their spiritual salvation, their moral redemption for the original sin of the Jewish state’s creation, lie in Israel’s complete capitulation

    What on earth is “morally vulnerable U.S. Jews” supposed to mean?

    And where is the evidence that Encounter seeks such a thing?

    It sounds like you’re simply smearing a group you disagree with.

  6. Pretzelberg, I’ll try to explain.
    “morally vulnerable U.S. Jews” – Jews who don’t have a strong sense of their identity and want to fit in with those who have views that are strongly against Israel. By coming out against Israel they are accepted, and this acceptance is more important to them than their religious and cultural identity they were born with.

    Most people are proud of their cultural and religious roots. Jewish people have a lot to be proud of and should not be ashamed of being Zionists

    • I agree that being a Zionist is nothing to be ashamed of. But who are you – or Adam – to call people who simply do not have as strong a Jewish identity as you “morally vulnerable”?

  7. Dear Yona

    I would like to add my thanks to you for coming on here and replying, in what may well have felt to you like a hostile forum.

    First of all, I’d like to make it clear that personally I actually do not object to your taking participants (young or old, Jewish or not) to meet with and talk to Palestinian Arab people, some of whom may vocally advocate for a one-state solution. Many Palestinians do believe in such a “solution” to the “conflict”, racist and supremacist though I believe it to be, and it is, in my opinion, both immoral and counter-productive to try and censor or whitewash this fact.

    No, what really bothers me about the way you apparently run your tours is this:
    “There was never an opportunity by Jewish participants to even briefly explain the Jewish/Israeli narrative. Indeed, such ‘counter narratives’ were explicitly forbidden by the program organizers.”

    I understand that you feel you were there to “listen”, rather than talk. However, this is not some kind of abstract theoretical field-trip you are organizing, and Palestinian Arabs are not some sort of abstract anthropological curiosity. They are agents and players in a real, live, current geopolitical situation with real-life ramifications for millions of people, themselves included. If I meet with an equal, she will tell me her story and I will tell her mine. If we disagree about fact or philosophy, we will probably argue. The only people I will abstain from arguing with when I think they are wrong are people whom I truly deem *incapable* of genuinely engaging in the argument. This is not a judgement that I make lightly, because it implies an assessment of the other person that could easily slide into being patronizing, self-congratulatory and condescending. Unwillingness to engage honestly with claims you disagree with is not a sign of respect, but of disrespect.

    Interpretations of Middle East history favourable to Israel are not “counter-narratives”. They are just as valid, prima facie, as Palestinian “narratives”. The very language of “narratives”, moreover, implies very strongly that history and politics, rather than merely having a subjective *component* or being capable of different interpretations, are *entirely* “subjective”. Along with most rational people, I would fundamentally reject this. One is entitled to one’s own opinions, one is not entitled to one’s own facts. The “narrative” of poor oppressed indigenous Arabs viciously displaced by marauding colonialist European Jews might have great emotional resonance to somebody, but can nonetheless be demonstrably inaccurate. All stories may be equally valid in the minds of those who tell them, but they patently do not all bear the same relationship to external reality.

    Nobody’s claims about the world deserve to be protected from scrutiny, and nobody deserves to be disbarred from debate simply because of who they are.

  8. As an actual Encounter alumnus, I would like to weigh in. The point of Encounter is just that- to encounter- to challenge myself as a Jewish leader to listen to a variety of voices in the Palestinian narrative. Sitting and listening, without speaking, was one of the most challenging things I have ever done- but also one of the most educational. I heard some things that were just heart-breaking, that have continued to weigh on my soul. Sitting and listening, without providing my own personal or communal narrative, was such a challenge.

    But I had to do it.
    How can I continue to work towards peace without meeting and hearing those on the other side?
    This is not to say that after Encounter I supported the Palestinian narrative, on the contrary, I was even more troubled by how different our people’s narratives truly are.
    BUT- I owed it to MY people, as a Jew, as a leader, as a human being and as a ZIONIST to be there and hear what they had to say.
    If I had brought my narrative to them, I would have gotten into a debate.
    That was not the point. There are plenty of other opportunities for this.
    The point was to LISTEN to help me, as a Jewish leader, better understand the complexities of peace and equip me to better work towards it.
    I came to Encounter as a Zionist committed to a Jewish democratic state in our ancestral homeland, I left Encounter better able to understand the challenges facing this Zionist dream.

    Furthermore, my experience with Encounter has given me a life-long gift- that of seeking out narratives first hand. I learned to not rely on heresay, the government or the media to tell me someone else’s story- I need to hear it firsthand. My Encounter trip sparked in me this desire- and since then, I have organized my own ‘encounters’ to further educate myself on this conflict- most recently, a trip to large and tiny settlements in Judea to hear the ‘Settler’ narrative.

    Thank you Encounter for helping me grow and learn and expand my understanding of this complex and emotionally charged conflict.

  9. “Moral Of The work

    In War: Resolution
    In Defeat: Defiance
    In Victory: Magnanimity
    In Peace Good Will”
    (Winston S. Churchill)

    There can be no good will in peace if there is no resolution in war.

    Just ask ask Neville Chamberlain after the Nazi’s invaded Poland.