By J.J. Surbeck
SAN DIEGO-- Some may remember that last February the Institute for Peace and Justice at USD (IPJ, which is part of the Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies) had invited Miko Peled and Nader ElBanna to give one of their presentations. The pair is famous (or rather, infamous) for falsely presenting themselves as a "dialogue group," living proof that if an Israeli like Peled and a Palestinian like ElBanna have figured out a way to make peace and become friends, surely they have a worthy message to share.
No one, especially not school directors, churches, Rotary Clubs, and even campuses as in the USD case, can resist such a tantalizing introduction. But once they're in, audiences are appalled to discover that their discourse is focused entirely on blaming Israel for everything and painting the Palestinians as innocent victims who have done nothing wrong. Peled belongs to the minority of Israelis who endorse entirely the so-called Palestinian narrative, which in plain English means re-writing history. Their so-called dialogue group, which implies two differing viewpoints finding common ground, masks what is in fact one viewpoint with two heads.
Not much of a dialogue needed if you agree with each other in the first place. The Institute for Peace and Justice realized too late that they had fallen prey to the pair's misleading representations, and now they regret their lack of vigilance.
At the end of their presentation, which was shockingly one-sided and meant only to stir up hostility against Israel in the audience, I stood up and commented that it was a disgrace for an Institute devoted to the research of peaceful ways of resolving conflicts to have allowed these two individuals to say what they said. Worse yet, it was even more shameful that no one had been allowed to respond to or balance out their presentation. Israel stood accused for 90 minutes and was never given a chance to have someone present its version of the facts alleged by Peled and ElBanna. Little did I know that this would have more of an impact than I even hoped for. It turns out that the Dean of the Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies (where the IPJ is housed), who was out of town when this incident happened, heard about the commotion when he came back and wanted to know what it was all about. I was then contacted by their Director of Development and Community Relations, who wasn't there at the time either, and who wanted to hear me tell her first-hand what had happened. She is herself dedicated to fostering a fair approach regarding the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.
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She then arranged for me to meet with the Dean himself, Father William Headley, a Catholic priest who has spent the bulk of his career on humanitarian missions in over 80 countries. We spent
an hour discussing the issue at hand. I told him that I had conducted a careful analysis of all the lectures and events held at the IPJ since its birth in 2002 and had come away with some interesting figures: out of a grand total of 292 events (which is impressive in and of itself and covered all sorts of very interesting and perfectly legitimate issues such as women's rights, human rights, peace mediation, etc), only 18 had to do with the Middle East conflict. But unfortunately, out of the 18 no less than 17 were anti-Israel.
Dean Headley was very attentive and showed sensitivity to the argument that all is asked of the IPJ is fairness. In practice, what that means is that if they insist on inviting yet another pro-Palestinian speaker, fairness and balance demand that either he be put on a panel with a genuinely pro-Israel speaker (not a fake like the ones who appeared on the rigged panels organized at UCSD and SDSU), or at the very least that a right of first response be given to a pro-Israel speaker, or even the right to give a presentation later by a pro-Israel speaker in response. All these suggestions were duly noted and no promises were formally made, but the message was clearly understood (and, I might add, shared).
It is rather remarkable to have found in the direction of the School of Peace Studies such openness and willingness to address the root of a problem that had been pervasive there for several years now (the SPS is the umbrella organization, encompassing the IPJ, the Master of Peace Studies Program, and the Transborder Institute) see ).
I don't want to make unrealistic predictions, but I am now rather confident that when it comes to the Middle East, the vetting process of invited speakers on the part of the IPJ is going to be tighter, and depending on the individuals they invite, pro-Israel voices will be given a fair choice to either participate or respond. The IPJ may also invite pro-Israel speakers without waiting for a pro-Palestinian first. Balance and fairness is all that's being asked, and it looks like the School of Peace Studies is now eager to make sure it is given.
In a recent development, I was just informed that they are exploring the possibility of putting together an event around the Middle East conflict some time in the spring of 2010, with a focus on presenting moderate and balanced views and speakers. The KSPS could well be developing an alternate model to the old "Teach-In" fraud by restoring standards of fairness, and other institutions of higher learning will hopefully emulate it.