By Joshua Marks
The loudest applause for Ari Shavit on Friday at Washington Hebrew Congregation came when the liberal Israeli columnist said Israel should declare a settlement freeze.
“Just stop something that right now aggravates everybody. You build up your international credibility and then you begin a process of dialogue with these moderate Arabs who will hopefully bring in the moderate Palestinians to some sort of gradual, slow, creative problem solving,” he told the audience at the Reform synagogue in Washington.
“It won’t be perfect, but it is better than being stuck in a position where there is no hope and there is despair and religious extremism.”
Shavit, a columnist for Haaretz and author of the critically acclaimed book My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel, kicked off a program called Congregational Conversations, which in addition to monthly discussions focusing on a different chapters of the book, will include a Keynote Series featuring scholars and experts on the history of Israel and its policies.
The violence comes out of a vacuum created by the lack of a peace process, he said.
“If you are not going to a good place, you will end up in a horrible place. So even if I’m not naive about peace, I think we need to give some hope. Some positive dynamics is essential.
“What happened in Jerusalem was not only horrific itself but it means there is a kind of ISIS mentality and the one thing you don’t want is a religious war surrounding Jerusalem. It’s so dangerous. And Iran is so dangerous,” he said.
Shavit said Israel’s defensive stance doesn’t do justice to the country’s Zionist roots.
“So can we show some generosity? Some goodwill? Something positive? In my mind, we can’t just be in the bunker and say they all hate us and we just have to be strong. We have to be strong and many hate us. But the whole point about Zionism was going out there and playing and acting in an imaginative way, not being in the bunker. The bunker is a very dangerous place.”
He called for a new, realistic peace concept based on an American-Israeli-moderate Arab alliance.
“I think with this kind of new peace concept, you can reposition Israel to a place that can save the catastrophe that is looming and hopefully bring some hope back again,” he said.
Senior Rabbi Bruce Lustig said the eight-month program will attempt to “create a safe space in our community for debate and the sacred exchange of ideas.
“If we want to further the future of Israel, we need to be willing to learn and to listen to each other,” said Lustig.