Panelists discuss religion, Palestine at SJW event

    Interfaith dialogue can be fluff, said panelists to an audience of approximately 40 people at Interfaith Perspectives on Palestine Wednesday. It isn’t enough to decide that every religion has a lot in common. Those engaged in interfaith dialogue must confront issues that spark conflict and challenge the status quo, then create meaningful change.

    Brant Rosen, rabbi and co-chair for Jewish Voices for Peace Rabbinical Council, Palestinian-American, journalist Deanna Othman (Medill '03) and Pauline Coffman, a member of the Middle East Task Force of Chicago Presbytery, engaged in an interfaith dialogue about the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. Students for Justice in Palestine and the Muslim Cultural Students Association sponsored the event as part of Northwestern’s first Social Justice Week, and religious studies assistant professor Yakir Englander moderated.

    “Real dialogue means being honest with one another and forming the coalitions that are based on very deep-seated, sacred values; values of justice, values of change,” Rosen said. “Real dialogue delves into the uncomfortable stuff and shines light on the stuff that we don’t have in common, the elephants in the room.”

    Panelists gave reflections of their experiences with the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, then answered audience questions.

    “[The panelists] were actually entrenched in our local community and also engaged in social justice and international affairs,” said Weinberg sophomore Serene Darwish, who helped to organize the event through Students for Justice in Palestine.

    Coffman addressed the ways in which social justice is rooted in Christianity, Judaism and Islam, including the Bible’s emphasis on liberation of the oppressed. This is the approach that she took regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – freeing the Palestinians and challenging the misconceptions that allow the current hegemony to dominate.

    “A prophetic justice needs to be about retelling the stories that are really dangerous to people who like the hegemony that is our reality,” Coffman said.

    Panelists also addressed why the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a political, not a religious, conflict. 

    “It’s part of American rhetoric in terms of convincing the American public that it needs to support Israel,” Othman said.

    In a discussion about the relationships between Judaism, Zionism and the current state of Israel, Rosen described his own faith journey. He eventually rejected Zionist rhetoric, as did the other panelists.

    “I’m speaking to you as someone who is inspired by Jewish experience and Jewish tradition and is also a human being, inspired by universal human values that connect me to all peoples and faiths and traditions,” Rosen said, who is searching for ways to liberate others through the Jewish theology of solidarity.

    “He did a really good job laying out what the relationship between Judaism and Israel and between Judaism and activism is and what it ought to be,” Weinberg senior Mauricio Maluff Masi said.

    All panelists pointed to meaningful change from interfaith coalitions concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, be it increasing awareness through advertising, boycotting certain products or leading trips for Americans to the region.

    Citing English scientist Stephen Hawking’s recent academic boycott of Israel and student divestment at the University of California, Berkeley, the panelists said that the dialogue worldwide and in the United States is shifting in favor of Palestinian rights.

    “Those kind of little victories, coupled with the apoplectic reaction of Israel and supporters of Israel to those victories is a sign that something is changing,” Rosen said. “We can look back and say ‘Wow, look at how far we’ve come.’”


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