This was published as an opinion piece in the Australian Jewish News (2 April 2009) The AJDS is puzzled that the Australian Jewish News (26 March 2009) regards as front-page news an Anti-Defamation Commission report by Dr Phillip Mendes about events that took place nearly a decade ago.
Debate within our community on Arab-Jewish dialogue is always important, but a particular person’s anecdotal experience with a now defunct academic organisation in which two out of three of his adversaries were Jewish, provides no basis to conclude that dialogue is worthless.
There is no question that support for dialogue with Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims extends far beyond “the Left”. We know that there are many genuine people who are willing to talk to the other side. Earlier this year, more than 30 people committed themselves to hours of joint discussion about the Israel-Palestine conflict under the auspices of the Centre for Dialogue at Latrobe University, which has experience in issues as diverse as the Cyprus and Sri Lankan conflicts.
At this first event, many attended with strong Zionist credentials as well as Palestinians and Muslims, and people from neither community. In fact, the Latrobe Centre turned to the JCCV and the Zionist Council of Victoria to nominate potential participants. We understand Dr Mendes was interested in the process but was unable to attend on the evening. The event demonstrated the deep desire for understanding and communication to bridge the gulf created by the recent conflict in Gaza, notwithstanding the JCCV’s recent decision to resign from the Centre’s Advisory Board.
There are many other path-blazing activities such as Salaam/Shalom, a group of Jewish and Arab women who have met regularly in Melbourne for the past ten years; inter-school visits by Jewish and Muslim youth, as well as many enduring informal and personal contacts between Palestinians and Jews. The AJDS recognises that openness for dialogue—as a path to negotiation and conflict resolution–is more incumbent on those seen to be associated with the stronger side.
There has to be a recognition that the two sides are not equal. It is also the case that some on either side will absolutely refuse to consider dialogue. Howver, engagement in dialogue is the only route to peace. For that the other side needs to know that we are genuine.
Dr Larry Stillman, Steve Brook, members AJDS