ON September 22, 2013
Bloor Street United Church and JSpace Canada will host a joint program. As you may know, inAugust 2012 the United Churchto affirmed a controversial motion supporting a boycott of goods produced in Israeli settlements on the West Bank and in East Jerusalem. Like our community, the UnitedChurch community is not all of one mind on such issues. This September 22 event provides JSpaceCanada with a change to dialogue with one downtown Church — sharing our perspectives and hearing theirs. This event is co-sponsored by the BloorStreetUnitedChurch’s Social Justice Committee and JSpaceCanada. Please join us for this free event; no registration is necessary. Location: Bloor Street United Church 300 Bloor St. West Time: 7 to 9
WATCH for UPCOMING information on JSpaceCanada’s first national conference on October 6, 2013.
Event on January 24 2013:
COURAGEOUS CONVERSATIONS ~ ARAB JEWISH DIALOGUE
· How can Canadian Arabs and Jews meet to mend historic divides?
· How do we reduce conflict and improve understanding between our communities?
· How can we counter hatred and promote human rights for all here and in Israel?
These were the questions addressed at a joint event sponsored by JSpaceCanada and the Canadian Arab/Jewish Leadership Dialogue Group on Thursday, January 24.
Representatives of the Dialogue Group described their experiences over the past few years to an engaged and attentive audience at the Barbara Frum Library in north Toronto.
The panelists were Raja Khouri and Karen Mock, founders and co-chairs of the group, and longtime members Maurice Green and Jareer (Jerry) Khouri. The discussion was moderated by broadcaster Ralph Benmergui, who identifies as a Jew born in an Arab country (Morocco), and who is a recent member of the Dialogue Group.
Raja Khouri explained the dialogue group, founded in 2007, provides a model for the mainstream communities, emphasizing the importance of building relationships in order to work together for the common good. He told the gathering that what really instigated the concept was that our communities were becoming more and more polarized, and this was particularly manifested in conflicts on campuses. “Was this the best we can do as Canadians?” he asked. He decided there had to be a better way. “That’s when we began the dialogue and reaching out. The common ground was human rights, and recognizing the other’s narrative, lived experiences and legitimacy.”
Karen Mock added that the idea for dialogue group was born when she was chair of the Attorney General’s Hate Crimes Community Working Group in 2006. Raja Khouri, former President of the Canadian Arab Federation, and Bernie Farber, then Executive Director of the Canadian Jewish Congress, were both members of the Committee; and once they got to know each other better, they began to talk to each other to diffuse conflict situations between their two communities when they arose. Once they had a relationship, they didn’t try to resolve conflicts here in the media or by arguing publicly, but by working out practical resolutions to meet both groups’ needs.
“I approached Raja with the idea that we should start an Arab/Jewish group to have the ‘courageous conversations’, since Arabs and Palestinians were not coming to any of the other groups, such as Muslim Jewish dialogues or interfaith groups, blocked by the ‘elephant in the room’, the Middle East conflict,” said Mock. “We decided to see if we could put together a group with people who had credibility in both communities, but not officially representing any official organizations, to begin the journey.”
The members of the panel all spoke of the importance of being able to put themselves in each other’s place, but also described the difficulty in achieving understanding and respect for the other’s point of view. Raja Khouri told the audience, “There’s a perceived orthodoxy on each side; and any person who speaks outside the orthodoxy is endangering themselves. I’ve been attacked by some in my own community, as have Jewish members whose opinions don’t mirror the so-called mainstream. In terms of the honesty of the discussion, it takes a long time to get there, and it took us approximately two years to build the foundation of trust before branching out to others.”
Jareer Khouri said that most people in the Arab community believe the Jewish community is ‘monochromatic’ when it comes to Israel, and they need to know there is a range of opinions and behaviours and identities. For the Arab community to hear other voices is important, and the same is true for the other side.
Raja Khouri added that we have to move away from the impression that no criticism of Israeli policy is possible in the Jewish community, and we also dispel the impression that Arabs don’t criticize events and policies in the Arab world. Karen Mock added that the dialogue makes it clear that legitimate criticism of Israeli government policy is not antisemitic, at the same time clarifying the meaning of Zionism as Jewish self-determination.
Among the differences between the two communities are inevitable disagreements over the Israel-Palestine conflict. A good example of the impact of effective dialogue was their discussion of the tension and anger over calling Israel an ‘apartheid state’. Learning more about the rights of Arab citizens of Israel (eg to vote, to hold elected office, etc.), the Arab members agreed that Israel itself was not an apartheid state. However, after hearing the experiences of a Jewish member’s 40 minute trip down a super highway from Ben Gurion Airport to her apartment in Jerusalem, and an Arab member’s 2 ½ hour trip, including several demeaning checkpoints, the same day from the airport to visit his family in Ramallah, Jewish members agreed that in the West Bank, Arabs live an apartheid-like existence. So by being able to go to deeper levels of dialogue, terminology is changed and understanding is enhanced. Maurice Green said what comes out when you respect and trust each other is honest conversation through which people come to appreciate why you hold the views you do.
During a lively question and answer session, one audience member emphasized that action was better than talk. He advocated joint projects by people in the Arab and Jewish communities. “We have to do things side by side,” he said, “instead of face to face”. Maurice Green agreed, “If you get enough people together to benefit a third party, that is a way to start.” Members of the dialogue group then described some of the actions they have taken together, to walk the talk.
There was consensus among members of the audience that there should be more such opportunities for members of both communities to meet and have “courageous conversations”.
In conclusion, Karen Mock added “You have to go beyond tolerance to acceptance and respect. Our words are meaningless if we don’t work towards building an infrastructure for peace, starting with building relationships.”
Text: Harry Schachter and Karen Mock
Photos: NJ Weiner