Acclaimed historian Sir Simon Schama last night warned a “battle of competitive victimhood” was hampering progress towards a two-state solution.
Speaking during the virtual 2021 Yachad Campaign Evening, the 76-year-old, who first visited Israel in 1962, praised “younger institutions” who were “getting down to work” to deliver a vision of Jewish-Israeli and Palestinian co-existence.
‘The Story of the Jews’ author added that it was “all too easy to become pessimistic and fatalistic” over the conflict.
However, he felt “inspired and exhilarated” seeing progressive organisations like Yachad “pushing back against fatalism, pessimism and despair.”
Joining Schama for a panel discussion were four upcoming Israeli political leaders, who analysed the implications of the latest legislative election.
Fida Nara (Tabony), co-director of Mahapach-Taghir, a feminist grassroots Jewish-Arab initiative for social change, expressed her frustration that “the most influential organisations against occupation” were all Jewish organisations in Israel.
She argued that a “new conversation” was needed in Palestinian society in favour of a two-state solution.
Echoing her sentiments, Mikhael Manekin, Israel director of The Alliance for Israel’s Future, which focuses on building new progressive leadership, added that “re-engaging with the occupation in a political way was critical”.
While the lack of public dialogue was a “source of ongoing frustration”, he argued the key to growing the Progressive movement in Israel was to “better understand national identities” to ensure both sides “worked together more coherently.”
For Efrat Yerday, Chairman of the Association for Ethiopian Jews, any alliance also needed to include other groups on the “raw end of social injustice”. Noting the decades of difficulty which Ethiopian Jews had faced in having their stories told, she argued that fundamental policy changes within Israeli society were also needed.
Responding, Simon Schama queried whether the pandemic had raised the possibility that togetherness was indispensable.
Cultural sociologist and lawyer, Ameer Fakhoury, argued that COVID-19 had uniquely helped Israelis and Palestinians to “find a significant flag to rally around.”
“This shared existential feeling of a joint fate has really sunk into the political and national discourse on both sides.
“The question is, will it last?” he added.
The evening discussion, attended by 150 people, was a fundraiser ahead of Yachad’s 10th birthday.
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