Tony Klug, who was involved in a previous initiative to bring the two communities together, applauds Michael Segalov’s call for serious talks. Plus, Ya’ir Klein on Israel’s conception of JewishnessMichael Segalov’s call for dialogue between Jewish and Palestinian groups in Britain in the light of the tensions over the IHRA’s definition of antisemitism and the question of free speech on Israel/Palestine is one of the few constructive proposals to emerge from this whole wretched issue (Journal, 6 September). But it is not a new idea. In 1984, a number of Jews and Palestinians in the UK started to meet regularly in an effort to break the silent hostility that had largely characterised their relations until then and to help “promote a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”. At the time, the idea of conversing was regarded by both communities as very radical, requiring the group to meet clandestinely until 1991 when it finally went public as the Council for Jewish-Palestinian Dialogue, with an elected executive board co-chaired by Saida Nusseibeh and myself.
Serious dialogue is not an easy option. It is not about exchanging niceties or sounding off in front of the other. As we noted at the time in a published leaflet: “The early tendency by participants on both sides to sermonize to the other … soon came to be replaced by a mutual recognition that each had much to learn from the other.” It went on: “The dialogue process can be one of profound discomfort to begin with, as it frequently forces the participants to reconsider deeply held convictions concerning the beliefs, motives and deeds of the other side – and also of their own side. Above all, it is a humanizing process. It is much easier to despise, humiliate and destroy a stereotype than a fellow human being with feelings, frailties and hopes not so different from one’s own. Palestinians and Jews engaged in dialogue … tend to lose their susceptibility to the hate propaganda and demonic imagery which have been employed by all sides over the decades.”