Controversy broke out recently over the decision of a Jewish summer camp in Washington state to fly a Palestinian flag on its grounds. Eventually the camp apologized and took down the flag, but Jonathan Tobin points to a deeper problem revealed by this incident. (Free registration may be required.)
The flag was a gesture of welcome for a visiting group affiliated with Kids4Peace, an organization that brings together children from disparate groups to build relationships. The sojourn of the thirteen Jewish, Muslim, and Christian children at the camp apparently went off without incident. . . . [But] the real point of interest here is not the undoubted good intentions of those responsible, or how tremendous the power that symbols like flags still have to engender passion. Rather, it is the blind faith that so many Jews exhibit in the value of dialogue programs.
In principle, the idea is unexceptionable. Getting people from warring groups to know each other as individuals rather than symbols of fear and loathing can only help undermine stereotypes that fuel conflict. But there is more to that lofty goal than merely throwing children or adults together. Since the impetus for dialogue between Arabs and Jews almost always comes from the latter, [these conversations] tend to follow a familiar pattern: Arabs denounce Israeli oppression and the Jews nod in sympathetic agreement or fail to answer in kind about the actions of the Palestinians.
That’s because supporters of the peace process and of concessions to the Palestinians are usually the ones organizing and taking part in such efforts, not skeptics or opponents of a two-state solution. But . . . what has always been clear—though usually not to the organizers—is the lack of symmetry between the two sides.
Few if any Palestinian participants ever express doubt about the justice of their cause or feel obligated to temper their anger at what they consider to be the sins of Zionism. But even supporters of Israel who engage in these programs generally feel compelled to express criticisms of Israel or to show respect if not sympathy for the Palestinian “Nakba” narrative. That isn’t the sort of dialogue that can help bridge the divide between the two peoples, let alone promote peace.