Hundreds Come to Hear Arab Take on Conflict

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On Feb. 28, more than 500 attendees at Temple Adath Israel in Merion Station heard an argument that, no doubt, not a few of them had heard before: that a two-state solution is not an answer to the conflict in the Middle East, and that hatred of Jews, not politics, is the biggest problem in the region.

On Feb. 28, more than 500 attendees at Temple Adath Israel in Merion Station heard an argument that, no doubt, not a few of them had heard before: that a two-state solution is not an answer to the conflict in the Middle East, and that hatred of Jews, not politics, is the biggest problem in the region.
What was unusual about this discussion was the choice of speakers making the argument. “Why Israel? An Arab Perspective,” hosted by the Stern Family Institute for Israel Studies, featured George Deek and Khaled Abu Toameh. Deek, an attorney, is a veteran of the Israeli diplomatic corps and currently a Fulbright scholar at Georgetown University; Abu Toameh is an award-winning, independent Israeli-Arab journalist who has been covering Palestinians in the disputed territories for three decades.
“We need to change the way we in the Arab world perceive Israel,” Deek told the Jewish Exponent. “Until now, Israel has been received as a threat and a problem in our region.”
Deek, who is Arab and Christian, has served in a number of diplomatic positions in Israeli embassies around the world. Abu Toameh is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Gatestone Institute in New York City and writes about the territories for The Jerusalem Post.
Deek told the audience that the media is being misled by the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement (BDS), and that a two-state solution can only work if communication begins to improve from both sides. People are allowed to disagree, but it needs to be amicably, he stressed.
“I don’t think I have the answers,” he said. “That’s why we need to argue. We need to develop a new culture of arguments. Disagreements should not be seen as a threat, but a blessing.
“The biggest problem in the region is the lack of the ability to accept people who are different,” he added. “Hate is not something you can control.”
Abu Toameh explained to the audience that he has been covering the peace process for several years. He said there are two reasons it has not solidified: lack of education and the absence of leadership in the Palestinian government of anyone capable of making concessions to Israel.
He exclaimed that during the past 20 years, he has not met one leader who has been amenable to making compromises.
In 2014, Secretary of State John Kerry made a mockery of the peace process when he told the President of the Palestinian National Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, that they had nine months to fix the issues. That is not how it works, he shouted. “Kerry and his staff were refusing to see the writing on the wall.”
He believes that unless Abbas is able to get 100 percent of the concessions wanted by the Palestinians, returning to his people would be a mistake.
Lastly, he predicts peace will not happen in the near future. Instead, he envisions a possible three-state solution between Gaza, the West Bank and Israel.
“Today, I’m more worried about the future of relations between Jews and Arabs inside Israel than I am about relations between Israel and the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza,” he said.
Among the attendees was Betsy Rentz of Bryn Mawr. Rentz was quite emotional as she spoke with the Exponent.  She commended the two speakers for coming to the shul and agreed that too many people see Israel as the bully, not the victim.
“It’s a pretty important narrative for the broader Jewish community to hear because I think that the mainstream press tends to demonize Israel and doesn’t get out the kind of message that these Israeli Arabs gave,” Rentz said. “I think that the youth today need to hear in colleges this message that Khaled and George gave. It pains me that the message they gave is not reported.”
Adath Israel Rabbi Eric Yanoff was impressed that so many people came to the program. Watching the steady procession of questions asked of Deek and Abu Toameh demonstrated to him the duo’s impact.
“I was overwhelmed by the community’s show of support for Israel and her diverse population,” Yanoff said. “The speakers brought a broad perspective and a strong support of their country, offering vision and pragmatism in the challenges that Israel faces and promise that Israel offers to the region and the world.”
Contact: jcohen@jewishexponent.com; 215-832-0747

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