Monday, March 21, 2011

Whose Vision?

My niece took part last summer in a program in the Balkans sponsored by a group called "Abraham's Vision," which describes itself as "a conflict transformation organization that explores group and individual identities through experiential and political education. Examining social relations within and between the Jewish, Muslim, Israeli, and Palestinian communities, we empower participants to practice just alternatives to the status quo."

Unfortunately, the transformation and empowerment appear to be somewhat unequally distributed. Here's one comment from the group blog of the people that were in the program with her:

This was the first year I didn’t celebrate New Year's or Yom Kippur. I didn’t atone, I didn’t fast, I didn’t even return holiday calls. I’m angry. I feel deceived, but mostly I feel embarrassed and ashamed. I’m ashamed at what I’ve done and said, how much energy and time I put into a farce, and how empty and helpless I feel without it. I clung to my Jewish identity irrationally and unwaveringly and in the process I allowed myself to compromise everything I stood for, or believed I stood for. As the illusion of people hood disappeared, so did my understanding of self. This program has left me alienated and lost. I am scrambling to find the components of a former self that can exist without childish notions of superiority and grandiose sentiments of unity.

Transformed? Yes. Empowered? No. By contrast, here's someone who seems empowered but not transformed:

The Fall Conference retreat was great. It was just what I needed to motivate me to get my head back in the game and take action for everything I believe in. After coming back from the trip to Europe and feeling completely lost and full of guilt for being a privileged American, I couldn’t help feel that I have a responsibility to take action. The passion and love I have for Palestine and its people who have suffered all their lives, outweighs any amount of effort I put forth toward making a difference. After going back and forth in my head about what I can do, I have decided to put my energy into starting a Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) organization on campus. For the longest time I’ve wanted someone to start it. Finally, I took it upon myself to start it.

So the one who is part of a group that has existed as a people for three thousand years now finds that the illusion of her peoplehood has disappeared, leaving her ashamed, alienated, and lost, while the one who is part of a group that has existed as a people for fewer than a hundred years feels passion and love for his people. Here's someone else who feels empowered:

Following our retreat in San Francisco, I returned back to my college more invigorated and ready to confront the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and issues of social justice more broadly.

A part of my Abraham’s Vision Fellowship is engaging my community on the conflict. Yesterday I held a discussion on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, along with a fellow activist and classmate – a Namibian student who drew on his experience with the apartheid system and his travels in Israel/Palestine. The event drew a significant number of people, around 60 students and faculty, which is large given my college’s 1200-strong student body.

Our presentation was endorsed by our school’s largest student organization, both in budget and popularity, the Student’s for Peace and Justice in Palestine. The student from Namibia introduced the discussion and discussed the current prospects for peace. I followed with a personal introduction: I explained what led me to take interest in this conflict; my travels to Israel/Palestine; my involvement in this fellowship; as well as my perspectives. We then opened the remainder of our event to a Q&A with the hope stimulating a discussion. Discussion soon developed on the subjects of: US support for Israel; Jewish-American views on Israel; Zionism; and the nature of the current state of Israel. Throughout these discussions I drew on, and encouraged members of the discussion to watch and read articles, books, and films that I had been exposed to while in the former Yugoslavia.

My niece did get a trip to the Balkans out of this (for which she had to raise the money herself), and saw things I've never seen, like the Mostar Bridge. So I wouldn't say that Abraham's Vision strikes me as a scam financially. Only politically.


  1. I expected this to start some debate! Maybe Israel needs better PR.


  2. The two sentences above are not necessarily related.


  3. That's another post. Coming soon.