Local Israeli-Palestinian Peace Talks
Monday, September 20, 2010
Most Americans are aware of the ongoing conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians, but how many of us truly understand its history and the challenges to resolving the conflict in a peaceful, equitable way? We will spend an hour speaking to local advocates on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and taking your calls.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. In terms that are cautious, tentative and more pragmatic than enthusiastic Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian President Abbas, have apparently agreed to extend a new round of peace talks. The talks are being conducted with the help and support of the Obama administration, and according to U.S. special envoy George Mitchell, they will focus on the goal of resolving the so-called core issues of the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians. The conflict in the Middle East is a half world away from San Diego. But it’s still deeply felt by many people here as a crucial political issue, and as one that strikes deep into their personal heritage and history. This hour we'll be talking about the hopes for this new round of peace talks in the Middle East and how all this news translates for us living here in San Diego. Are both sides getting a fair shake in local media? Is recent activism on San Diego campuses educational or divisive? I’d like to introduce my guests for the hour. Michael Lurie is co-chair and co-founder of the San Diego Israel Coalition. Michael, good morning.
MICHAEL LURIE (Co-chair, San Diego Israel Coalition): Good morning. Thank you for inviting us.
CAVANAUGH: And Nasser Barghouti is a coordinator for the San Diego Coalition for Justice in Palestine. Nasser, good morning.
NASSER BARGHOUTI (Coordinator, San Diego Coalition for Justice in Palestine): Good morning to you.
CAVANAUGH: And our listeners are invited to join the conversation. We know that there’s a lot to say about this topic, many questions, many comments. We’re asking our audience for thoughtful comments that move our conversation forward. Our number is 1-888-895-5727, that’s 1-888-895-KPBS. Now we’ll be talking specifically about how the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians affects us here in San Diego but first I’d like to get your responses to the present state of affairs in the Middle East. And until this most recent round of talks, the mid-east peace process had been stalled for about two years. What do you think has changed to get the two sides talking again? Nasser, I’ll start with you.
BARGHOUTI: I think what has changed is perception among U.S. leaders, If you will, in the military, in the State Department, in the administration, that the status quo in the Middle East is hurting the United States. This has been articulated by General Petraeus, it has been articulated by people in the State Department, high up people, and I think that is what changed. Due to U.S. involvement in the Middle East now in a major way, you know, hundreds of thousands of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, so many bases and direct implication, the economy on the military and so on, I think there is a realization that the status quo cannot go on because it is hurting the U.S. in addition to hurting the peoples of the Middle East.
CAVANAUGH: And, Michael, what do you think is the impetus for this round of peace negotiations?
LURIE: Well, clearly the negotiations have been championed by and slated by President Obama’s administration. And he’s introduced a very new policy with regard to, I guess, overall foreign policy, the way in which the United States engages with countries around the world and specifically the way in which the United States is reaching out to Muslims around the world and to countries in the Middle East. And as such, the Obama administration is very invested in improving the situation in the Middle East in all respects, and including the Israeli-Palestinian situation.
CAVANAUGH: Now so far, as I said, cautiously, tentatively, the two leaders who are involved in these talks, Prime Minister Netanyahu, President Abbas, has said they’re going to continue. Do you think, Michael, these talks will continue down the road?
LURIE: It’s really impossible to say. We are enormously hopeful that they will. This is, clearly, as we all know, a very deep rooted conflict that has got tremendous passion, tremendous suffering, associated with it on both sides, a lot of emotions of all kinds of things as well as the existential reality of two nations, so it goes very deep. The attempts to make peace have been going on for—in a serious way—for the last 16 years, and for decades before that at various levels. Hopefully, this new initiative can bear some fruit. And, certainly, the government of Israel is very committed to achieving a positive result and to reaching a true and lasting peace with the Palestinians.
CAVANAUGH: Nasser, are you among those who are optimistic for these talks to continue? Or do you think perhaps they will not?
BARGHOUTI: I think it depends on one fundamental issue. If these negotiations stop being an industry to replace finding justice and really addressing the issues at hand, the core issues, as they say, then there may be hope. However, I am skeptical because of the past track record. What has happened, and I think, unfortunately, is peace talks have become sort of a cliché for as long as there are peace talks things are fine. Well, that’s just not true. During the peace talks, during the Oslo process and after it, the situation of Palestinians has deteriorated so much. So poverty, economy, everything among Palestinians has been decimated during these peace talks, much worse than before them. So if you just want to replace something just for media consumption and to convince people that movement is happening, I think that’s very dangerous and unfortunate. If they are serious—and I have yet to see signs of that—I think that the – what Netanyahu and Abbas and other leaders said is interesting. There’s some interesting things in them. But actions act louder than words and one – to me, the most fundamental thing is a simple issue like settlements, which should not even be discussed because it is considered by the whole world, including the United States, as illegal. It’s under United Nations resolutions, all of these things, and yet we cannot even agree on that they should not – they should be frozen until a peace negotiation is concluded. So this is like, you know, you and I are sharing a cheesecake, I’m not allowed to eat it, you’re continuing to eat, and then we’re discussing how to divide it up.
BARGHOUTI: It just does not work that way.
CAVANAUGH: Michael, let me ask you because, again, the issue of the settlements is something that might derail these talks by the end of this month. What is your assessment of how these talks might continue and what Israel should do. Should they maintain the freeze on the settlements in order to get these talks to continue?
LURIE: The issue of settlements is one of the final status issues so, as you know, the freeze on the settlements was a unilateral gesture by Israel to freeze settlements. In fact, the Netanyahu administration was the first in Israeli history to unilaterally freeze expansion of existing settlements. And all we’re talking about is natural expansion within existing settlements, not creating new settlements, which hasn’t been going on for a long time. The – And Netanyahu – the Netanyahu administration did that in order to encourage the Palestinians to reengage in peace talks. Obviously, I don’t know but I personally believe that every effort will be made between the parties, between President Abbas, between Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Obama administration to find a reasonable compromise in order to continue discussions through the end of the month and beyond. I will disagree with Nasser, respectfully, on the issue of settlements as being a singularly distinctive issue. From the Israeli perspective, there are a number of final status issues. Security is no less an issue for Israelis than settlements are for Palestinians. From the Israeli perspective, unilaterally halting expansion of settlements or continuing growth within existing settlements, while there’s no concomitant commitment from the Palestinians to cease terrorist attacks on Israelis or, for example, to stop incitement in Palestinian schools and through Palestinian media, are issues that are of as great a concern for Israelis as settlements are to Palestinians. So the net of it is, and something that’s strongly supported by the Obama administration as the facilitator of the talks, is that all of these issues need to be dealt with simultaneously.
CAVANAUGH: I’m speaking with Michale Lurie. He’s co-chair and co-founder of the San Diego Israel Coalition. And Nasser Barghouti, a coordinator for the San Diego Coalition for Justice in Palestine. And we are talking about the latest round of peace talks, the beginning of peace talks again, between Israel and Palestine. And we’re taking your calls on this conversation at 1-888-895-5727. You know, obviously, we are not going to be able to resolve issues like settlements and so forth and so in trying to figure out what, indeed, we could do that was very helpful and – for our audience today, I’d like to get from you the idea of what life is like, let’s say, Michael, in Israel now for those of us who haven’t been there.
LURIE: Israel is a mosaic of different things. In some respects, life in Israel is very good. So Israel is a free and open democracy committed to equality and human rights for everybody, and the diversity and richness of Israeli society reflects that. So people from every walk of life, from every race, from every religion, regardless of sexual orientation and so on are free to live their lives and express themselves and that’s what it’s like being in Israel. You see that tremendous richness and diversity. Israelis also have been a very industrious and productive people so amongst the leaders in the world in terms of innovation and – and it’s a bit like Silicon Valley being in Israel in terms of the number of new technology start-ups that are being constantly created and the inventions that are coming out of Israel all the time. But, of course, the conflicts with the Palestinians and the broader conflict, the tremendous danger is Israeli eyes of Iran, and the genocidal threats that the president of Iran has made against Israel, the constant attacks on Israel coming out of Hezbollah and Hamas, which have both been designated as terrorist organizations by the United States and the European Union really create a whole ‘nother dimension to life in Israel. There’s tremendous sensitivity to the suffering of the Palestinian people and there’s a deep desire amongst the vast majority of the Israeli people to address that suffering, to reach a peaceful solution that will be just and equitable for everybody.
CAVANAUGH: Nasser, I want you to tell us what life is like for Palestinians who live in the West Bank and in Gaza.
BARGHOUTI: Well, one of the things that I have to start with is that life in these places is not naturally progressing so life for Israelis, as Michael has described, for Israeli Jews, I should say, is exactly as he described. That’s not the case for Israeli Palestinians, i.e. the 1.5 million Palestinians that are citizens of the state of Israel. They do not enjoy equal rights under that state. They are discriminated against in every aspect, in their water allocations, school allocations. Their towns are much poorer than Jewish town, the allocations, even though they’re the indigenous inhabitants of the land. They were there – they never left the land for thousands of years. And yet they only make 69% – an average Palestinian in Israel, an Israeli citizen who’s Palestinian makes 69% of an average Israeli Jew in the same jobs and so on. Then going to the West Bank and Gaza, these are places under occupation. The Gaza Strip is a big concentration camp, closed off, sealed off in every direction by Israel and then Egypt. Nothing is allowed in. Just this morning I heard on BBC a news item that Israel may allow some cars into the Gaza Strip after three years of banning any car—imagine that—to enter. And so of course there’s no economy in Gaza. They cannot export, import, do anything. Any manufacturing they do is considered by Israel dangerous. They bomb it because it could lead to manufacturing weapons. The West Bank is in shambles because it’s divided up into three areas, one under direct Israeli military control, one under joint control between Israel and the Palestinians, and one under the control of the Palestinian Authority. But all the borders are controlled by Israel. There is no airport. There is no port. There is no way to import or export. Anything has to go through Israel. Even when I send money to my family there, it has to go through the SWIFT system which goes through Israel to be admitted in. So it’s really suffocating for the Palestinians. Not surprisingly, they live at a very low standard of living, about one-twentieth of an Israeli Jewish (sic) so while Israeli Jews live at a standard of living higher than Italy, the Palestinians live at a standard of living that’s closer to Bangladesh. And this is in the same area, in the same region, and the Palestinians are not immigrants in that land. They are the indigenous population. And the reason is they’re denied their ability to build an economy and build a nation.
CAVANAUGH: I want to thank you both for giving us that snapshot. I know that you don’t agree with each other on what the two of you said about how conditions are in Israel and the reasons for conditions in Palestine but I’m glad that we have some baseline to talk about this. We do have to take a short break and when we return, we’ll be taking phone calls. There are lots of people who want to get involved in this conversation. And also talk – Bring it back here to San Diego and talk about how, indeed, this conflict, this dispute, is being played out here in our own town. We’re taking your call at 1-888-895-5727. You’re listening to These Days on KPBS.
CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. My guests are Nasser Barghouti. He is a coordinator for the San Diego Coalition for Justice in Palestine. And Michael Lurie is co-chair and co-founder of the San Diego Israel Coalition. We’re taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. And before we start to take phone calls, Michael Lurie wanted simply to address an issue about why, in the Israeli point of view, why the situation in Gaza is the way it is.
LURIE: It’s very important when we look at the position in the Middle East to understand that Israel has been under relentless assault from the Palestinians and from the surrounding Arab states for decades, since its inception. The Gaza is a situation from which Israel withdrew five years ago. So five years ago, Israel took a unilateral decision to withdraw all of its settlers—there were about 8,000 of them in Gaza—and its military, and completely remove them in Gaza. Today, there is not one Jew in Gaza other than Sgt. Gilad Shalit, who has been kidnapped by the Hamas terrorist organization that controls Gaza and under whom he remains in captivity. But essentially Hamas, rather than choosing to build positively, building an economy, looking after their people, chose to unleash a relentless war against Israel which has now, the last five years, comprised thousands of terrorist attacks including, in the last two weeks, several rocket attacks have been launched from Gaza into Israel and four Israelis were recently murdered, civilians, by Hamas terrorists. As a result, there’s a very critical security situation there, and Gaza for Israel is like Tijuana for San Diego, it’s immediately adjacent to major population centers. So it’s like Al Qaeda having a base in Tijuana and continually firing rockets in San Diego. What would be the reasonable way in which America would respond to that in order to look after the people, which Israel is trying to do by letting through hundreds of tons of everything that’s not potentially military type products, and at the same time protecting the civilians of Israel.
CAVANAUGH: I do want to move on and I know, Nasser, that you don’t agree with that. I…
BARGHOUTI: Of course I don’t.
CAVANAUGH: I understand that. Yes. We’re taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. Linda is calling from San Diego. Good morning, Linda. Welcome to These Days.
LINDA (Caller, San Diego): Good morning. Mr. Barghouti, I wondered what tangible concessions do you believe that the Arab-Palestinians should make as part of this peace process? And I’ll take my question off the air. I’ll listen for the answer.
CAVANAUGH: Thank you.
BARGHOUTI: Thank you, Linda, for that. I think the Palestinians have given up everything. They’ve lost their land, they’ve lost their lives, they’ve lost their economy. They’re scattered all over the world. Asking them to compromise more is unbelievable. There’s nothing they have. So that’s why I’m a little bit skeptical about these negotiations because there’s a huge difference in power and ability. Israel has all the cards and the Palestinians have only one card which Israel has requested of them, which is to recognize the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish nation, which the Palestinians will never do because that is tantamount to having African-Americans recognize the United States as a white nation or non-Christians in the U.S. acknowledging that the U.S. is a Christian nation. Palestinians cannot accept Israel as a Jewish nation. They can accept Jews living in Israel and Palestine equally but they cannot accept it as a Jewish nation because it negates them. It negates their existence there, and they are the indigenous population that have always lived there.
CAVANAUGH: Will the Palestinian, the Palestinian Authority, Hamas, Fatah, will they reject violence as a means of attaining their objectives?
BARGHOUTI: I think, first of all, Hamas is not being brought into these negotiations, which is one of the reasons why I think they will fail. In Ireland, which is a model that Senator Mitchell talks about, the IRA was brought in, right, including the most militant wing of the Irish Republican Army. And that’s why it succeeded, because they addressed the core issues. Here, we have Israel being brought in with all of its wings and parties, including Lieberman, the foreign minister, who is an open racist and advocating for kicking out all Palestinians from Israel. And Hamas is not being brought in. Now Hamas does advocate violence but they also advocate other things like any – like the IRA, like many other organizations around the world with which you make peace. You make peace with your enemies. Hamas has indicated once again and – but many times in the past years that they are willing to accept a negotiated settlement if it addresses the core issues of land, the refugees, the right of return of Palestinians, and Jerusalem. That’s what basically Hamas is saying. Not having Hamas in the negotiations is going to affect its outcome. But I think the Palestinians have, by and large, denounced violence, that most Palestinian resistance now is nonviolent. It is really motivated by nonviolent resistance in the villages against the wall that Israel has built on their lands. It is a nonviolence resistance in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. These are all nonviolent actions that Palestinians have now adopted wholeheartedly. And most Palestinians advocate that. Yes, there are violent Palestinians but, you know, unless you address their situation, the violence will continue. Unless there’s justice in this world, there will be some violence.
CAVANAUGH: We have a question for Michael. Tony is on the line from San Diego. Good morning, Tony. Welcome to These Days.
TONY (Caller, San Diego): Good morning, everybody. Good morning, Michael.
LURIE: Good morning.
TONY: I’ve been reading this conflict for the longest time that I remember. The same – I just have one question. I have too many friends. I talk with them. All right, there’s 78% of the land for the Israelis, 22% of the land for Palestinians. What takes so long just to divide this? The same body who created Israel is the same body that said, okay, 78% for Israelis, 22% of the land for Palestinians. Why is it so hard to accept? It’s very clear. Black and white. I get my answer on the air. Thank you so much.
CAVANAUGH: Okay, I’m not really clear about the question but I guess it is why – is that a fair division? Do you think that – why is it – Will Israel return land to the Palestinians?
LURIE: The – I guess the caller was – is referring to the history to come extent. Just to touch on that very briefly, in 1947, the United Nations agreed on a petition plan for the British mandate to essentially divide the land into a two-state solution between a Jewish state and a Palestinian state. In 1948, when the Palestinians and the six surrounding Arab nations invaded and attacked Israel, a war ensued and a result of that war were armistice lines drawn in 1949 which have become generally accepted around the world as the – more or less the borders between Israel and the Palestinian state. And the – in the current peace process, negotiations are very much focused on creating that two-state solution with perhaps some adjustments around those borders in line with Resolution 242 of the United Nations in order to achieve a just and lasting peace that allows the Palestinians to have their state and fulfill their national aspirations and the Jews to have their state and fulfill their national aspirations. It’s very important to note that when we talk about a Jewish state, it’s similar to Christian states such as England, Denmark, Finland, Greece and Norway. So it doesn’t mean a Jewish state is exclusive to Jews or in any way discriminatory against non-Jews. In fact, it’s not. There’s full equality for everybody in Israel and there’s – there are many Israeli-Arabs that speak to that. People who are against Israel tend to argue that that’s not the case but Israel is not an ethno-religious state, like the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and other Muslim states which are very much ethno-religious in that way.
CAVANAUGH: Let me, as I say, move the conversation here to San Diego, if I can. Michael, your organization recently spoke out against an event organized by UCSD’s Muslim Student Association back in May. The event was called “End the Apartheid.” And the students called for a resolution for UCSD to divest itself of all economic ties to companies doing business with Israel. Why did you feel that you had to respond to that protest?
LURIE: Well, the analogy of Israel and apartheid is deeply offensive to Jews and to Israelis. I grew up in South Africa. I’m familiar with what apartheid looked like. And the situation in Israel is diametrically different. Israel is a free and open society with equality for all. The situation in the West Bank is a complex situation and it’s a complex situation because of the security problems. As Nasser mentioned, over the last 16 years, there’ve been, as a result of peace initiatives, a progression in terms of the beginnings of laying the foundation for Palestinian states in these three different areas, some of which have already self-ruled by Palestinians. And, hopefully, that will continue. But the apartheid analogy is incorrect. It’s deeply offensive to Jews and to Israel. And we believe that there should rather be constructive engagement with both parties to facilitate peace rather than putting all the blame on Israel, attacking and demonizing Israel, and making it all Israel’s responsibility. Clearly, it’s a conflict. There are shared responsibility and there needs to be a shared resolution.
CAVANAUGH: Now, Nasser, I know that you were involved in the organization of this protest at UCSD called “End the Apartheid.” And I’m wondering why is it that you believe that boycotting Israel and divesting all economic ties with that country could actually lead to a resolution of the conflict? I mean, could actually move this process forward and it isn’t just an insult to Israel.
BARGHOUTI: Right. First of all, I wasn’t actually involved in the UCSD events. I was asked for advice…
CAVANAUGH: I see.
BARGHOUTI: …but the students themselves actually organized this. In terms of why Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions, which is an international movement, can have hope, first of all, it is a movement that was launched by Palestinian civil society. So about 500 organizations in Palestinian lands, women’s organization, labor unions, teachers and so on, got together and called on the world to adopt a policy of sanctions and divestments and boycotts against Israel to pressure it to adhere to international law specifically to get three items. One is end the military occupation of the West Bank and the siege of Gaza. Second is the right of return of Palestinian refugees that were kicked out of their lands in 1948 when Israel was created, about 750,000 Palestinians and their descendents, about 4 million people scattered in Lebanon, Syria, many refugee camps. And the third is to remove the system of discrimination, the institution of discrimination, against Palestinians inside Israel proper. So why BDS? It’s because there’s no other option. Israel is a very strong country supported by the only super power in the world, the United States. So the United States is not really an honest broker in these negotiations. It is dealing with a client state, Israel, which it supports. It does not support the Palestinians. The U.S. does not give any money to the Palestinians, doesn’t give them weapons, anything. It gives all weapons, manufacturing, all kinds of advanced weapons, to Israel and it has numerous research collaborations and so on. Now to be able to equalize the situation little bit, because negotiations can never succeed, and Michael knows that, he’s a businessman, so am I. In business, you have to have a win-win situation. You only have a win-win when both parties benefit. There’s no way to have a win-win unless both parties are somewhat equal in power, they have something to offer the other. So if you pressure Israel and make it lose part of its economic power due to sanctions and divestments, unless it adheres to international law, you could empower the Palestinians a little bit more just like the African national congress was empowered in South Africa. Now the funny thing is the use of the word apartheid to describe Israel came mostly from Jews. It was from Noam Chomsky, a Jew, from Richard Falk, professor at Princeton and now Santa Barbara, a Jew, from the Goldstone Report, who’s also – Goldstone was a Jewish judge. I mean, it’s – this is not an exclusive Palestinian movement, BDS, it’s a movement that has many, many prominent Jews in it and that’s why I’m hopeful. It’s truly the very first Jewish-Palestinian movement headed by Palestinians to put pressure on Israel for universal rights, equality and international law.
CAVANAUGH: Now, Michael, I know that the co-chair of your organization, Audrey Jacobs, recently told us here at KPBS that that incident, that week of protest at UCSD, raised the awareness in San Diego, that San Diego is one of the hotbeds in the country, specifically on the campuses, for anti-Israel sentiment. Do you feel that San Diego is a hotbed for anti-Israel sentiment?
LURIE: I’m not sure that Audrey was correctly quoted in that. There is a diversive opinion on campuses throughout America. Clearly, there is anti-Israel sentiments on San Diego campuses like on many other campuses, and there’s also a strongly pro-Israel sentiment on these campuses. Just like Nasser will do everything he can to – and put his point of view, as he rightly should, and supports students on campus and advise them in terms of their perspective and their aspirations, our goal is to do the same thing in terms of people who are supporting Israel and advocating for Israel, and to make sure that both sides are heard. At the end of the day, we live in a democracy. It’s important to listen respectfully to each other, to express both points of view, and to let each person come to their own conclusion on where they rest on the matter.
CAVANAUGH: Is there a feeling, though, that perhaps the Israeli point of view is no longer getting a fair shake in intellectual circles in San Diego and in other areas of the country?
LURIE: There’s certainly a lot of concern amongst the Jewish community that there’s been a rise in anti-Semitism in the world. There’s a strong concern that as the decades since the Holocaust passed, there’s less restriction on people expressing anti-Semitic, anti-Jewish and anti-Israel points of view, and that the discourse about Israel has changed into more of a demonization of Israel, a delegitimization of Israel. It’s perfectly reasonable to have robust arguments. It’s perfectly reasonable for Nasser to advocate the BDS campaign. If it’s a choice between nonviolent resistance and violent resistance, we would rather it be nonviolent resistance. Of course, we’re going to oppose it because we don’t believe in that. But dialogue is definitely important and dialogue has to be based on mutual acceptance and mutual respect. So it’s very important that we don’t label each other. It’s very important, in our view, that we don’t call Gaza a concentration camp. Auschwitz was a concentration camp. My grandfather had many siblings who perished in concentration camps so to refer to Gaza as a concentration camp is not a – is not constructive in terms of dialogue. It’s not constructive to put labels on the conflict, and that’s where there’s concern. It’s very important to recognize that Israel is the only functioning democracy in the Middle East. Israel is the only country with true independent judiciary that is regarded throughout the world as fair and independent with true human rights for all.
CAVANAUGH: We have to take a short break and when we return, we will continue our discussion and take your calls at 1-888-895-5727. You’re listening to These Days on KPBS.
CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. And we’re talking about the recent – new round of peace talks that have started up again in the Middle East and we’re talking about how all of this affects supporters here in San Diego. My guests are Michael Lurie, co-chair and co-founder of the San Diego Israel Coalition, and Nasser Barghouti is a coordinator for the San Diego Coalition for Justice in Palestine. We’re taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. Let’s hear from Shoshi in San Diego. Good morning, Shoshi. Welcome to These Days.
SHOSHI (Caller, San Diego): Good morning. I want to ask Mr. Barghouti, for a better future in the Middle East and in the world, will you join a group for dialogue and learning about Judaism and Islam here in San Diego?
BARGHOUTI: I’m not a particularly religious person and so to me – I would encourage wholeheartedly a dialogue among faiths and that is going on, as you know, internationally. Last year, there was a big summit in the coterie capital Doha that invited rabbis and ministers of all Catholic churches and Muslims, Shiites, Sunnis and so on for an interfaith dialogue. I support that. I would not be the right person to participate because I’m not a particularly religious person. I do, instead, think that it’s important for each person to learn about the other. I am vehemently opposed to all kinds of overt or covert racism and anti-Semitism. It’s despicable and I have no tolerance for anybody telling how the Jews control America or the media or anything of that nature. I completely oppose those points of views. What we’re talking about is strictly political views, and I am a firm believer in a universal movement including Jews and Palestinians and other Arabs and other people from all around the world for universal human rights and international law. So, to me, it is not a religious issue. I think it’s a good thing for people to learn about each other’s religions but I don’t think that is really the heart of the issue. And the reason is, Jews and Muslims coexisted for millennia. They coexisted in the Islamic Empire, in Spain was a golden age for Jews under Muslim rule, and in Turkey as well. And so I don’t think necessarily – I think it is important and there are a lot of misconceptions both have about each other’s religion but I wouldn’t necessarily be the right person to do that.
CAVANAUGH: Let me take another call. Fred is calling from Del Mar. Good morning, Fred. Welcome to These Days.
FRED (Caller, Del Mar): Yes, hi. My question is for Mr. Barghouti. Mr. Barghouti, you mention on your website – you do not mention anything about the connection of Jews to Palestinian, to Israel. Are you not aware that Jews are actually the indigenous population there? They’ve lived there for 2000 years. They’ve been subjected to persecution by both Muslims and Christians. They are, in fact, when you talk about Palestinian-Arabs losing everything, it’s the Jews that lost everything. Why aren’t they entitled to a very small state with a Jewish culture and a language and their own free expression? I mean, after all, there are 21 Muslim nations, which go so far as to prohibit Jewish immigration and Jewish culture and Jewish buildings and citizenship.
CAVANAUGH: Fred, thank you for the call. Thank you so much for the call. Talk about a core issue. Gentlemen.
BARGHOUTI: Yeah, well, first – first of all, I never denied the right of Jews to live in Palestine or anywhere else they want to live. I believe in a complete freedom of movement for anybody in the world, so I believe people should pursue their economic dreams and live wherever they desire. And I understand that people form their own identities and, frankly, everybody has myths about their history. Jews were definitely indigenous peoples in Palestine but so were many other peoples. The Canaanites and what the bible calls the Philistines and so many others. So nobody has exclusive right to any piece of land anywhere in the world. We are all connected as a human race. And what I object to is the exclusive ethno-religious notion of a Jewish state. I don’t support ethno-religious Islamic states of which there are only two—three, actually, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Afghanistan. The other Arab countries, many of them are product of colonialism. Britain and France created them. They’re not – They didn’t evolve naturally. I don’t necessarily see the benefit of that. And so I definitely support the right of Jews to live in Palestine as equal citizens, equal to everybody else. The problem is not that. The problem is the Palestinians are denied those same equal rights, to prosper and live securely. That is what is being denied today.
CAVANAUGH: Michael, I wonder, as you speak to people about the current round of peace talks and about Israel’s position in these talks and in this dispute, do you find that there is a – people have a grasp of the history of this area of the world or are we really undereducated when it comes to the claims, the mutual claims, the disparate claims, and what, indeed, has happened since even the mid-twentieth century.
LURIE: I suspect we’d both agree that people are pretty uneducated. Like with most complex situations, it’s a lot easier to reduce things to sound bites and much of the dialogue takes place on that basis. So, certainly we, you know, we appreciate KPBS providing this opportunity to have this kind of dialogue and the more of this kind of thing, the better. It’s very, very important that here in San Diego and around the world Palestinians and Jews are communicating with each other, reaching out to each other, are trying to understand each other’s perspectives, trying to understand their history, which we often see so differently. We kind of experience the same effects but we just – we walk away and you have two different stories of exactly the same thing. And it’s only through dialogue that there’s any hope of achieving what Nasser just spoke about, which I strongly agree with in terms of a people being free, people being equal everywhere in the world, people choosing where they want to live. So all of these things are important principles and this dialogue is very much helpful and the only way, really, to progress in that direction.
CAVANAUGH: You know, Nasser, usually when we talk about the conflict in the Middle East, we have a supporter of Israel and we have a supporter of Palestine and they disagree. And I’m wondering, though, how much, in the United States, how much disagreement is there within the supporting – within the supporters, in other words, the people who support the Palestinians in the United States. Do you have a great deal of dialogue within – about what should happen?
BARGHOUTI: Of course, which I suspect is also happening in the Jewish community. The Jewish community has many organizations on all kinds of along the spectrum. Some very supportive of Israel, some much less supportive of Israel. The same thing goes for the pro-Palestinian movement. There are all kinds of discussions about what is the most effective way to resist. How do you form international support? What are the rights of Jews in a future in that area, and many other issues, and the role of religion in the state, and so on. That’s just natural, right? Palestinians are not a monolith and so are – neither are their supporters. And so all these discussions do happen and what I’m seeing, though, is not a consensus but a semi-consensus forming around this notion of creating a universal movement that advocates universal rights, universal human rights, universal political rights, so equality among everybody. That worked really well in South Africa and we still admire Nelson Mandella for creating that kind of discourse and I think the reason it works is because once the conflict is resolved, you can have reconciliation. That’s why it works. Because if you don’t have reconciliation then it becomes a bitter resolution that nobody likes and in the future it will re-erupt.
BARGHOUTI: And so having it based on really universal values, I think, is the best way forward.
CAVANAUGH: I would be remiss of me (sic), Nasser, not to note the fact that in recent weeks we’ve heard an awful lot of a sort of an eruption of an anti-Muslim sentiment in the United States. There’s a problem with the mosque in New York, there was a slight problem with an idea of a mosque community center in Temecula. And I know that you, as you just said, are not particularly are religious but how do you think that this might play into the idea of support for any kind of resolution in this round of peace talks among Americans?
BARGHOUTI: I think, unfortunately, some people are whipping fear in the United States against Muslims so they’re using the fact that Islamic radicals, militants, terrorists committed the 9/11 tragic terrorist attacks to basically demonize Islam and demonize the whole religion which 1.5 billion people around the world follow. And then they selectively choose things from the Qur’an and things from sayings and if they do that to any religion, they’ll find plenty, seriously, to debate about. And what has happened is, I think, is a phenomena that in Europe is now officially called Islamophobia and I think it definitely applies to the United States. There’s a fear of Islam and it’s irrational. And it’s really reminiscent of the fear of Jews in Europe in the twenties and thirties. And it just becomes so irrational. Everything bad is blamed on the religion and the people, you know, that follow it without really knowing much about that religion. So they take the sound bites about it and they say it’s a violent religion, advocates this, advocates that, without even reading their own religions and seeing what they say about the matter.
CAVANAUGH: And, Michael, I’d like to get your comment on that.
LURIE: I completely agree with Nasser. The Jewish experience, as Nasser mentioned, has been a terrible discrimination for centuries and the vast majority of the Jewish community is 100% committed to making sure that Muslims are free, that Muslims are accepted, that they are not demonized, that there is distinction between, as Nasser says, those radicals that are conducting terrorist activities and, to my knowledge – I don’t know much about Islam, but to my knowledge, that is a perversion of Islam. And certainly there’s no question that the dialogue we were talking about a few minutes ago is critically important. It’s very, very important that Muslims are accepted as peaceful, free people in America and everywhere in the world.
CAVANAUGH: If, indeed – If, indeed – I know that there are many, many, many obstacles along the road to peace but if, indeed, somehow this new round of peace talks were to result in a viable peace in the Middle East—Michael, let me go to you first—how do you think America would be helped by a solution to this intractable problem between Israel and Palestine?
LURIE: I think it would bring enormous benefit to America. Firstly, America would be seen correctly as being the champion of this peace. It would be a unique achievement, comparable to other great resolutions of conflicts in the world. It would bring enormous benefits to both Palestinians and Israelis and to the entire Middle East, and America would be a direct beneficiary of that. It would almost certainly lead – particularly if the peaceful resolution ends up with two democratic, peaceful states that both respect human rights along the lines of what Nasser was talking about, it would lead to a continuing strengthening of democracy and human rights in the Middle East which would, again, bring greater security to America. So I think America believes that is very much in it’s interests. Well, certainly the Obama administration believes this, to reach peace and that’s why they’re working so hard towards it.
CAVANAUGH: We have a minute left and I’d like to get your reaction to the same question.
BARGHOUTI: I agree with everything Michael said. If there is a true resolution of the issue that addresses all the core issues, refugees, land, people and so on, I think it will be a tremendous benefit for the United States. The United States will be seen once again as the champion of human rights in the world, not the country that leads preventive wars and so on, not based on international law. The United States will be seen as a country that champions human rights and I think it’ll be a great benefit for the U.S. economically, politically, and in every way. And it will obviously be a great benefit for the peoples of the Middle East, not just Palestinians and Israelis.
CAVANAUGH: I want to thank you both for a really productive discussion. I really enjoyed this. I really enjoyed hearing your both – both of your perspectives on this issue. Thank you very much.
LURIE: Thank you.
BARGHOUTI: Thank you.
CAVANAUGH: I’ve been speaking with Michael Lurie. He’s co-chair and co-founder of the San Diego Israel Coalition. And Nasser Barghouti, a coordinator of the San Diego Coalition for Justice in Palestine. If you’d like to comment, please go online, KPBS.org/thesedays. You’ve been listening to These Days. Stay with us for hour two coming up in just a few minutes here on KPBS.