Episode 58: How to Lose Without Violence

Joel Braunold and Yehuda Kurtzer discuss the most uncomfortable truth about peace - that it almost always involves giving something up.

The following is a transcript of Episode 58 of the Identity/Crisis podcast. Note: This is a lightly edited transcript of a conversation, please excuse any errors.

Yehuda Kurtzer
Hi everyone. And welcome to Identity/Crisis. The show about news and ideas from the Shalom Hartman Institute. I’m Yehuda Kurtzer, President of Shalom Hartman Institute North America. And we’re recording on Friday, June 4th, 2021. For the last couple of episodes, we have been reckoning with the consequences of the recent violence between Israelis and Palestinians. We spoke a few weeks ago with Rabbi Ethan Tucker about liberal Zionism at a turning point, perhaps at a moment of crisis for many American Jews. Last week, we spoke with Yona Shem-Tov and Leah Solomon of Encounter about what we see and what we don’t see when we look at the conflict, what it means to change our field of view, our aperture of this conflict. And today I want to continue on this theme, and I really hope for you for our listeners, that these three sessions together constitute something of a package of this powerful moment, this powerful reckoning to continue the conversation about not only what it looks like to encounter this conflict and feel implicated by it from the outside, but to also ask the questions of what American Jews, other Americans, the international community might do to try to be partners with Israelis and Palestinians and resolving it.
Yehuda Kurtzer
I’m excited to talk today to Joel Braunold, the managing director of the S Daniel Abraham center for middle east peace previously, the executive director of the Alliance for middle east peace, a long time peacemaker. First of all, thank you for coming onto the show today. And I would love for you to start off by just talking a little bit, before we get into the kind of cognitive and intellectual side of this work, which we’ll get to – we have a lot of questions for you – what has it been like for you personally to watch and experience this violence from afar over the last few weeks? I’m sure, and I remember this from my father also in his career, you feel that you’re moving forward. You feel like you’re making progress and then you have these experiences. That must feel like a regression.
Joel Braunold
Sure. And thanks for having me, Yehuda. Look, I remember vividly 2014. I was living in New York at the time. My brother was in Tzahal and was going into Gaza. And I had friends, colleagues in Gaza who are Palestinian having their homes bombed. And it took a tremendous personal toll as someone who was sort of involved and had family members, my brother calling me and my friends calling me. It had a very deep lasting impression on my mental health. As you sort of watch the stuff from afar. And so on the recent rounds, I remember tweeting at the beginning: “People need to take breaks, mental health breaks.” It’s very important because there’s very little when the shooting starts, you can do from abroad. I think in this particular round of violence, the sad thing is that everyone saw it coming for the weeks leading up throughout Ramadan, there were five alarm bell fires going off from the cutting of the sound speakers on Temple Mount at the beginning of Ramadan to the tick-tock violence that was happening against Haredim to the countdown to Yom Yerushalayim.
Joel Braunold
And we all saw it. And I think on this particular round, it was sort of an exasperations that a lot of us were screaming, “Hey, Hey, Hey, look at this, look at this.” There’s a perfect storm brewing and that falling on deaf ears a little bit. I mean, the administration got very involved the weekend before with Jake Sullivan and others. I think that was an important intervention, but it’s sort of like a tragedy that you saw unfold in front of you and then it all kicked off. And then it was sort of praying as quickly as possible for the violence to stop because it was pointless. I think that the real thing about this round, which is so debilitating was it was pointless. Nothing has changed. Israeli actions in Jerusalem haven’t changed. The policy towards Gaza hasn’t changed. Hamas is still there. They feel emboldened. And so what did we achieve? And I think that’s really, looking from the outside, if anything, we’ve shown the complete emptiness of the policy towards Gaza over the past 11 years of just one of utter failure.
Yehuda Kurtzer
You could start to see a trickle back this week. There was news of another nationalist march by Israelis, a kind of replacement for Yom Yerushalayim, or an augmenting of what was, and what wasn’t. The protests have begun again in Sheikh Jarrah at a certain point, the courts will litigate the question of Sheikh Jarrah. And that’s going to have those consequences as well. So this brings us to the topic of what we’re going to talk about today, which is what it means to try to be a peacemaker with respect to this work. As you know, I mentioned it before I grew up in a house of a peacemaker. My father’s work for over 30 years was on the government side. You have been trying to work, not non-governmental, but kind of quasi-governmental in relationship to government and government power. But as you even started talking, what you said was kind of a slow moving train that everybody could see where it was going.
Yehuda Kurtzer
But you also pointed to all of the different little pieces of this: Al-Aqsa, Sheikh Jarrah, Hamas in Gaza, Israeli political motivations. Before we get into the pragmatics of what actually might be possible in terms of solving this conflict, how do you confront the story when there are so many interlocking pieces of this conflict and so many places, it feels a little bit like whack-a-mole. Like if I deal with this, then this pops up over here. So first of all, paint us a picture of how you, as a peacemaker, committed to peace and reconciliation, justice, and dignity. How do you confront the complexity of all of the different pieces that relate to this conflict?
Joel Braunold
It’s a great question. I think firstly, we have to recognize we’re dealing with a system, right? So I speak a lot that while there is an asymmetry of power between the parties, which is obvious, there’s a symmetry of fear and mistrust. And like how you deal with that complexity is difficult and we should accept that it’s difficult and it’s complicated and it’s uncomfortable. Peacemaking happens in those uncomfortable spaces. Look it’s systems change, right? You’re trying to change a system over time that has many different elements. I think the important thing is to be as fluent in as many of them as possible. So look at this current round, Al-Aqsa has a completely different cadence to every part of the Islamic world than any other part of this conflict. If you speak to insider religious mediators, whether that’s like Rabbi Melchior, Daniel Roth of Ofer Zalzberg and sort of the others that they work with, they’ll tell you, look, the Islamic world still believes that Al-Aqsa is under threat and that has to be dealt with, if you want to look at the number one motivation for why the mixed cities blew up.
Joel Braunold
It’s because they think that Al-Aqsa is under threat. And so you have to deal with that. And so it’s about identifying when shifts are happening to be able to deal with that and to be able to flag the right things at the right moment. Hamas surprised the Israeli decision makers because they’ve never issued like a time delay threat before, right? At six o’clock, we’re going to fire rockets if you haven’t done X. You know, when they analyzing this at the Shin Bet or wherever and the security services, it’s like, well, we haven’t seen this before. It’s a bluff or whatever, but understanding motivations in its fullness, including those with illiberal or religious backgrounds is essential. And I’d say that from a policy community, especially in the states, we’ve done a terrible job of understanding the motivations of whether it’s the religious Zionist community, the Islamist community and others, and some of the work that I’ve been doing now at the center.
Joel Braunold
And we have a new site up, “Progress is Possible,” that we can talk about later, really tries to delve into some of these motivations. So to get back to your question, when you zoom out, there’s a lot. And I think that what’s important is that as you try and track forward about where you make your interventions and how you do so you’ve got to know all the pieces of the puzzle and essentially what peacemaking is isn’t winning peacemaking. It isn’t progressive. It’s not like the left winning and it’s not the right pacifying those they disagree with. Peacemaking, fundamentally, at least for me is an agreement to lose non-violently. And that’s not a very comfortable position to be in, right, telling people that you’re going to need to lose, but without resorting to violence, because there’s enough resilience and benefits to that loss in other aspects that you’re not going to win.
Joel Braunold
And I think understanding what the zones of possible agreement for each of these individual categories, whether you’re religious, whether you’re not religious, whether you’re a secular nationalist, whether you’re not is important, because if we’re eventually trying to create a political settlement that can survive, we need to understand everyone’s motivations. And so that complexity is important for all of us to understand, to step out of our comfort zones. And whether that comfort zone is human rights, whether that comfort zone is religious peacemaking, whether that comfort zone is civil society work and try and understand what those who are opposed or threatened by that, where they’re coming from, and then to try and design a strategy to lessen the vociferousness of opposition. And I think that’s really what our jobs are.
Yehuda Kurtzer
I do want to go into detail on the “Progress is Possible” site, as well as the work that you did around getting the Nita Lowey bill passed. I want to go into those details, but first I want to stay at the realm of the philosophical. If I can, for a second, I apologize. That’s where I live. I guess one of the traps that the peacemakers have often times been accused of, and I actually even noticed this language creeping into this new site “Progress is Possible” is the language of a solution. There’s a Silicon valley theorist of Evgeny Morozov whose critique of Silicon valley is that obsession with what he calls “Solutionism,” the belief that everything is a problem to which there can be a solution. And Courtney Martin has a great essay on this called “the Reductive Seduction of Other People’s Problems” that the further away you go from any problem, the more that the obvious solutions presents itself and the classic case that relates to Israelis and Palestinians has been the two-state solution. On paper
Yehuda Kurtzer
everybody agrees. Everybody knows this is the way in which this conflict is going to be resolved. The closer you get in, and it goes to the complexity you were talking about, the more reluctance there is for people to give up on all of their areas, pieces of hopes and dreams, territory, control, security, whatever they need to do in order to get to that solution. So there’s something psychologically about the need to think about this as this conflict, not as an enduring story that has to be managed and not something that might evolve into something different, but as a problem that needs a solution. Do you think that that’s accurate about this conflict? And can you tell us a little bit about like, why even when you’re trying to take a different approach, that language of a solution continues to reappear.
Joel Braunold
Look, a solution is a political context. And so at the center we’re dealing with US policymakers. We can talk about it later, but we’re not preaching a solution. I think it’s about to create the possibility for a political settlement later on. I don’t think anyone serious is talking about a bilateral negotiated solution right now, but you’ll point philosophically, Yehuda is very well taken. And for me, peace, isn’t binary, right? And by the way, when we look in our own cities in America, are they peaceful? What is peace for me? I’ve defined peace as a resiliency against violence, not just violence prevention, but the resiliency against violence. And what that means is that we prevent violence from occurring. We disagreed non-violently. And when we have lost our ability as a society, or in this case in a multi-ethnic national struggle to deal with it non-violently, then we’re not at peace. But we have to be careful not to tip into pacification.
Joel Braunold
Right? So the critique that we’ll hear from many on the Palestinian side of peacebuilding is you’ll just try to pacify us. Look, you need to reduce violence to give space, to work on the structural violence issues. I think that a lot of the time we worry about acute violence and we don’t deal with structural violence. We have to do both and that’s complicated, right? Because again, the structural things have political consequences. So if we understand for me, at least that peace is a continuum and it’s not an immunization, right? I didn’t actually like the public health language around violence. That it’s a public health problem. Because I think it pushes people into: you’re either healed or not. For me, it’s a continuum. And how do you build enough resiliency against violence? And when I look at civil society programming or trying to work with others, it’s about ensuring this space to create political opportunities down the line.
Joel Braunold
But it’s not about creating constituencies for peace. Actually, I would love to retire that term. It’s about creating resilience against violence and creating wins for your community that come through non-violent means. If you can deliver more valence politics, better schools, hospitals, whatever, in a dignified way, on a horizon, that’s acceptable to you, you move this situation forward. And I think that for me, that’s really what it’s about now. Will that lead to a political settlement? Maybe at one point. I think it’s very important that you create a political horizon. Otherwise it seems purposeless. But when we compare Israel/Palestine to Northern Ireland, not as conflicts, but just when we look at tools that we use, you know, in Ireland, they had a long, long, long process and one day to get a solution. Okay? So like if you read George Mitchell’s book, they speak about the 500 days of negotiation.
Joel Braunold
They finally came up with an agreement to disagree non-violently. The Good Friday agreement was not a solution. It was to kick it into the future, but do so using politics rather than guns. In Israel/Palestine, we came up with a solution and then had to find a way to get there. And so in many ways, the failure to get there demolished the solution. So it could still be the right one. You know, whether it’s a confederacy, whether it’s two states, we can debate the vagrancy of the possibilities in 2021 versus 1993. But the reality is we’ve completely lost the populations. Like, if you look at the average agent as all today, it’s something like 31. In the West Bank. I think it’s around 21 at this point in Gaza it’s 16. The youth in Israel/Palestine is the only place in the world where they’re more right-wing than the elders and there’s reasons for this, right. Right-wing
Joel Braunold
in terms of war and peace stuff. They’re more skeptical. They vote for right-wing parties over left-wing parties. There’s demographic changes. There’s lived experience about what they’ve experienced, but as policymakers, it’s irrelevant to talk about a solution when the populations over 75 to 80% believe on a daily basis, that the other side will kill them or hurt them. I mean, there’s just nothing to talk about until you deal with that. Now it doesn’t mean that by dealing with that, you solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but it’s a necessary piece of it. So for me, I’ve decided my 12, 13 year career to focus on that problem set. You know, when we look at the international community or just the populations, there’s people who wake up every day and think about the economic situation in the West Bank and Gaza is people who wake up everyday and think about humanitarian assistance. There’s people who wake up everyday and think about, in most countries,
Joel Braunold
how do I put a negotiation back together? But there was no address to wake up every day and say, what are we doing to make sure the next generation doesn’t hate each other? And to believe that the parties themselves would do it goes against all of that political incentives, right? There are no political incentives for them to prepare their populations for anything except for or a deepening despairing, worsening status quo. And so I think that going back to your question, you can’t privilege a solution over people’s lives. If you’re not advancing rights and in real ways changing it, why would anyone believe in a compromise about their dream? If the compromise looks as distant as the dream, I mean, you don’t compromise your dreams when they’re still dreams, you go to a compromise because it’s realistic and it’s possible. When the compromise is neither realistic, nor does it seem possible, why would you ever go for it? So I do think that we have to stop front-ending a lot of these conversations. Go: well, what do you think about an ultimate political outcome? I think you do need to set a horizon. We need to meet people where they are today. Not where we think they were 20 years ago.
Yehuda Kurtzer
Great. So at the center where you currently work, there’s a short video on the website. I recommend people take a look at it from the S Daniel Abraham center, former Congressman Robert Wexler, talking about major objectives of the work, which are improving lives, narrowing the conflict building support for peacemakers.
Joel Braunold
There’s one more as well. Advancing rights is important.
Yehuda Kurtzer (16:05):
Right, I want to start with narrowing the conflict because of all people, this actually was a Naftali Bennett line yesterday. I don’t know if you saw this.
Joel Braunold
I did.
Yehuda Kurtzer
You said, and it’s very telling to hear the possibly incoming prime minister Naftali Bennet – but a lot has to happen for him to actually become Prime Minister – to use the term shrinking the conflict. It’s also a term that’s Micah Goodmans Catch-67 and his “Eight Steps to Shrink the Conflict.” It is a position that is despised by the progressive left. And the fact that it gets associated with Bennett proves the point. Because if you say with someone like Bennett, he never actually wants to end the occupation. Shrinking the conflict gives a luxury to the right-wing. This is just the words, as I hear them, it gives a luxury to the right wing, to never actually have to solve the long-term problem.
Yehuda Kurtzer
And that if you actually make people’s lives better, that’s good. Nobody disagrees with that, but it takes the kind of political pressure off. Now, personally, Jewishly I like those politics. I like that idea. I think you should make people’s lives better. And you create the conditions for down the line to be able to do what you’re talking about, which is create a world in which peace becomes possible. How do you engage though, that critique when it’s so obvious that not only does the left, not like it, but the maximalists don’t like it because Hamas knows the same thing, right? If the West Bank Palestinians don’t feel the same pressure, then it breaks apart a kind of Palestinian national alliance to actually fight against the system as a whole.
Joel Braunold
So you started off your question by saying he wants to take one at a time, but there’s a reason that Naftali Bennett is using “shrinking the conflict.” And then he stops. At the center we are using narrowing the conflict, improving lives, advanced rights, and building. Because if you do you receive that critique, right? So firstly, I think it’s interesting that when you listened to Gidon Sa’ar’s manifesto that you listen to Naftali Bennett, they’re all speaking about shrinking the conflict. That’s just interesting. We have to see if that happens, but for us shrinking, the conflict is closer to improving lives when you look at our plans and stuff. So I’ll get to narrowing the conflict second cause it’s different and I think it is important why. But for us it’s different, right? For Naftali Bennet or for Micah Goodman, I should say, because I don’t know what Naftali Bennett means by it.
Joel Braunold
If you read Micah Goodman’s, they are all steps that the Israeli government needs to take. When you look at our site, we have steps, not just for the Israeli government, but for the Palestinian authority, including prisoner payments, incitement. We’ve got steps for the international community because they’re also involved. So Micah Goodman was entering into an Israeli conversation, which I think is important. But our website is the Palestinians, for Israelis, for the international so it’s wider. When we look at how do we improve lives. For also Israelis to have improved lives? You know, there are things that will improve Israeli lives that I think are important as well. I think the actual concept of narrowing the conflict is fundamentally different. And I think it’s important. On the website we go through and this part was written by Ofer Zalzberg and Daniel Roth, the history of religious peacebuilding.
Joel Braunold
And I mean, it’s an unwritten history. For many people they assume this is sort of like hugging and kissing interfaith. There’s nothing wrong with that. I’m the only these people who look down at that, but this was really the history of what Daniel has termed insider religious mediators. We have profiles on these people. And Mansour Abbas did not come out of the ether. If you want to understand why the Shura council met, who is Sheikh Raed, but there we really go through this in depth and the center has been working with these folks for years now. It’s the unwritten story that I think is very important because when we talk about narrowing the conflict, it’s really about how do we approach this from the position of people who, you know, I term in illiberal communities, other people define as religious constituencies. It’s not surprisin that the 400 most prominent religious Zionist Rabbis rejected Trump’s annexation deal because for them it didn’t match with that eschatology or the view of halakha. Like the ability to be flexible enough to talk to how religious Zionists or Islamists talk about the conflict is as important as talking about international law.
Joel Braunold
And I think that when it comes to Israel/Palestine, we haven’t done that very much because we assume it’s Western. But when you look at the populations and the motivations, a lot of people see their sources of authority as different. And so one suggestion we have is when the president talks about Jerusalem, they speak about al-Quds and they speak about Yerushalayim and they do it in a way that both communities can hear them in their own sense. You know, when we look at issues in the UN, for example, we urge that the UN describes the West Bank as the West Bank and Yehuda v’Shomron. That shouldn’t be seen as offensive on the face of it. Because if you want to speak to people who deeply care about it, and you refuse to recognize that narrative, you’re never going to get them to compromise.
Joel Braunold 
I mean, the recognition of connection has now morphed as well. That means you’ve got sovereignty. And that really debilitates us, right? There is a Jewish connection for Yehuda v’Shomron. There is a Palestinian connection to Lod right, or to Lyd or to Ramle. Or to other places and denying that connection, just pisses people off. It doesn’t do anything except for that. So narrowing the conflict is about taking the narratives that are at the heart of it and finding policy ways to recognize them and bring people along. It doesn’t mean you give them a veto over it, but you’ve got to respectfully reach to it. So that was another key part of the site. So that sort of improving lives and knowing the conflict. The other two things we speak about advancing rights and that’s important. I mean, if you’re a Palestinian in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, I’d even argue in some ways in Israel, you need to see your rights advance, but we speak about family reunification.
Joel Braunold
I think it’s essential. And we speak about rights of travel and other things. People need to see material improvements. And then lastly, we speak about building constituencies. And a lot of that is around the implementation of the Lowey fund, if it’s done appropriately. And we can talk about that a little bit. But Yehuda, I think the reason that in “Progress is Possible,” we have all four isn’t just to cover our bases it’s that it’s a concept. You have to do all of these things. And if you read the site carefully on the policy steps, we stage it with how do we create the US as a process orchestrator again, after Trump and, you know, learning the mistakes of the past 23 years. How do we then, you know, improve lives, advance rights, and now the conflict at the same time. And then lastly, how do you consolidate that?
Joel Braunold
And eventually do it to get towards a negotiated Two-State outcome. And the last part is important. You can’t do this absent a political horizon. People need to know where you’re aiming towards. They have a right to know. Now, you could be flexible. Does that look more like a confederation? Does it look more like a traditional Oslo-nian two-state solution, but you need to be arguing for something because otherwise it feels kind of purposeless building in a vacuum. It doesn’t mean that you need everyone at the beginning to accept the outcome, but people should know what you’re doing coming in so they can respect you coming out. So we don’t front -oad two states. We don’t dictate what it should look like. And we are very clear that that’s a lot longer down the road, but if we do all of these things sequenced correctly, and in a way that is heard by the populations at the end of the day, we’ll be in a position that we can have that conversation hopefully in three, four, five, six years time.
Yehuda Kurtzer
Right? And it helps explain why it’s legitimate for people to be a little bit skeptical of that terminology when it comes from Bennett, precisely for that last reason, which is absent the commitment to what you described, then narrowing the conflict, shrinking the conflict is vulnerable to that critique. Let’s stay on religion though, for a second. This is something that I feel like I’ve learned and grown on in the past 10 years, quite significantly, recognizing the ways in which the political processes were heavily Western, heavily secular, oftentimes when there was a Jewish narrative around Israel, it was largely an Ashkenazi narrative. What you’re describing is a kind of embrace for better or worse – these are the people of the region. This is their passions. This is the way religion actually operates as a central driver of value systems. And I think even more than that, it’s the people who have something to lose you have to persuade the most
Joel Braunold
Who doesn’t receive the peace dividend.
Yehuda Kurtzer
That’s right.
Yehuda Kurtzer
Who’s willing to lose. And it’s even – why I don’t remember if I said this last week to our friends from Encounter, but it’s an argument I’ve made before, which is the place where the liberal American Jewish community really needs an Encounter is actually the settlers. Because the people who they’re going to ultimately want to persuade to give something up are not Palestinians, who they may even identify with politically, but actually other Jews who are going to be dug in passionately against the positions they hold. Okay. So all that being said, you use the terminology also of inclusivity, which I actually found very compelling. Like you need everybody involved because when you don’t do that, and this was a big lesson, post-second Intifada the maximalists wind up, dictating the entire agenda. In our work at Hartman, we have sometimes come under critique when we have brought American Muslims, for instance, to Israel and engaged in conversation about the conflict, we’ve come under
Yehuda Kurtzer
the critique of what’s called “faith washing.” It was a hashtag invented, very proud to say in response to the Hartman Institute. And the critique says, actually, this is a secular political conflict. And that when we impose the terminology of religion on this, we are pretending as though it isn’t a story of colonialism. It isn’t a story of Western occupation. You’re granting sincerity to a religious argument where it doesn’t belong. I don’t buy it. I don’t think it’s fair. I don’t think it’s what we were doing, but it’s out there. So again, it’s one of these places where ironically, your peacemaking work is going to encounter much greater resistance from the left than it is from the right. You’re actually taking the right seriously in a very different way. So how do you think about that “faith washing” critique and how do you even in your own language that you said before, this is not really progressive. What does it look like to navigate the work of peacemaking when the language of peace and justice and dignity is so often thought of as the Providence of the political left?
Joel Braunold
Such a complicated question, which is good. So firstly, on the faith washing, I mean, they’re just wrong. Hamas is an Islamist organization. If you want to pretend that Chabad’s eschatology and the Taya has nothing to do with the growth of the far right vote in Israel then. Okay, fine. You want to ignore reality? I mean, just like, it’s just not an informed critique. It’s not a religious conflict. As in like it goes back centuries of Jews and Muslims kicking the crap out of each other. Sure. I’ll take that. But like the number one motivator for Palestinian uprising and across the Islamic world is all Al-Aqsa. So if you take out faith, I don’t really understand why that would be because I just, for me, you can have a colonial narrative. You know, we can debate it, whatever else, but I’m a person of ands, not ors.
Joel Braunold
I don’t like to say it’s this or this. It’s all of this stuff. And that’s not for me just giving up the fight. I think people are complicated for some it’s deeply a colonial conversation. Okay. And it’s this and it’s. And for me, I’ve never believed that it’s one approach or nothing. So I think that what you are suffering and facing, I would say as a pressure thesis, there’s “Israelis believe….” There’s “Palestinians believe….” There’s “pro-Palestinians and pro-Israelis believe….” Where if you believe that forces the only language the other side understands, which has taken a lot of popularity on the left right now and everything else. And by the way of Israelis towards Gaza, right? They only understand when we mow the grass, right. Which is the terrible euphemism of just saying our policy is to bomb and deal with it that way.
Joel Braunold
You’re basically stating that we are right and they’re wrong. And if we just put enough pressure, we don’t have to move and they have to move. And that’s why pressure thesis is so attractive because it validates you and says, I just need to squeeze the other side more and they’ll come to it. Right? I just disagree. Peace building isn’t progressive because it’s non-violently losing. And I understand that amongst the Palestinians, when the asymmetry is like, all we have left is moral authority. How can I give that up? I get it. I understand that it’s a terrible position to ask people. That’s why peacebuilding, if done right, is terribly unpopular because you’re asking people to lose and to be uncomfortable. It moves into sort of the anti normalization critiques. And there’s a lot that peacebuilding and others need to acknowledge about how to avoid pacification, because I think it is abused a lot to pacify because people are worried about acute violence and it never deals with the underlying structural elements.
Joel Braunold
And at the same time, if you’re pursuing a one-state solution, whatever else, as long as you’re not expecting all the Jews to leave, you got to talk to them. And there’s a reason that if you look in the P2P world, two things have happened. The first is some of the most interesting stuff happening right now is between settlers and Palestinians. Ignore my politics of it. It’s just the fact. There’s really interesting stuff going on. And it’s fascinating to watch. The second thing is, you know, in 2014, after that terrible summer religious Zionists took a huge step into the peacebuilding field. If you could, the leadership of Amal-Tikvah, who’s a partner of ours, did like a huge survey of the people to people movement. Religious Zionists have taken leadership positions in many different of the people to people and, you know, religious people are becoming more into a forefront.
Joel Braunold
So the whole “faith washing” critique, and then, you know, fine again, it’s not about us in America, but I will actually say I have been part of many different tank discussions. When people try and work out, what are the US interests in Israel/Palestine? Or should we move off? It’s not an interesting, I always laugh at these conversations like 25% of one of the major political parties rate this as a top issue because they’re evangelical, that’s our interest. We’re a democracy. And as much as the think tank community seems to have an inability to recognize or take evangelical seriously. Do you know who does? Politicians. Do you know who runs the government? Politicians. That’s the US interest. So this obsession where we have to move everything secularism when we ourselves are not as secular as we pretend to be. And in Israel/Palestine, there’s a lot of faith involved, right?
Joel Braunold
It doesn’t mean that we reduce it. Just like we shouldn’t reduce this to a purely secular conflict, a hundred percent, we shouldn’t reduce this to a purely religious conflict. But at the beginning you said, how do you deal with the complexity? It’s about being fluent in all of these things. You shouldn’t not read the Human Rights Watch report to understand why they’ve come up with terminology of apartheid because it scares you or you think they were – read it to understand. Even if you disagree, you shouldn’t ignore faith because you don’t understand it. And they’re very not progressive when it comes to LGBTQ rights. If you don’t understand who Sheikh Raed Bader and who the Southern Islamic movement is, you’re never going to understand the motivations of Mansour Abbas. You’re just not going to do it. You’re not gonna understand where he comes from. So if you want to be an analyst of Israeli politics, you should do it. You’ve got to understand it. I mean, it’s very important, right?
Yehuda Kurtzer
I mean, there’s another trapdoor though that comes with religion, which is, you know, Avishai Margalit’s line on this is “religion is in the grip of the holy.” So when it comes to economics or politics, the secularity of those discourses lends themselves to a certain compromise, right? You want to get as much as you can out of a transaction, you want to get what you need to get and lose what you need to lose. Whereas in the realm of religion, the line he uses is compromising on the holy compromises the holy” and that’s, I mean, you see it on Al-Aqsa, right? Any amount that you give creates powerful jeopardy, and it invites a kind of sovereignty over the holy and it doesn’t compromise.
Joel Braunold 
Yeah. But Yehuda you’re saying compromises. So let’s look at Jewish faith. The most meikel decisions come where the holy has to deal with the secular because we have a state. So let’s look at how the Halakah goes around power plants in Israel or how the Halakah went around Shmita and all these other compromises that were created, because when you are confronted with real policy decisions, you’ll generally meikel rather than mahmir because people have to live with it. The philosophy of religious insider mediation in the end of the day, or at least some of it – and I’m borrowing much of Ofer Zalzberg here, but I agree – the confrontation of religious poseks, whether they are Islamic or whether they are Jewish, the confrontation with the reality of the lived life of the believer pushes people to make compromise because you can’t live in the academy.
Joel Braunold
If you have to work out what is my responsibility, if I’m driving the Magen David Adom ambulance on Shabbat, and there’s someone injured in the road. What is my responsibility? When they are included within a process, it forces a different conversation. Now, again, that’s not arguing for Halakhic compromise on the sovreignity of Har Habayit. I’m not saying that, but having documents alongside an international agreement that has an ability for religious practitioners, authors, and scholars, to sell it within the language of faith is important. So if there’s a compromise and it’s sold as a hudna or it’s sold as every 50 years, we look and we re-examine the ownership. We have to be flexible enough to enable that conversation unless we want people to take it as an item of faith that they have to oppose this. I think that’s where it comes. It’s not about secularizing the holy.
Joel Braunold
That’s when we do it wrong. I don’t want Rabbis at the negotiation pushing where the border should be. But I do want our negotiators speaking to them to understand what the constituencies are and what language would need to be utilized once we’ve got the compromise for them to be able to be part of a conversation. It’s not about empowering them to say, well, ignore the security experts. What does Rabbi X think or, you know, vice versa, but it is also having enough dignity for them to say, “Hey, let’s include you in the beginning so that we can have an ongoing conversation. And maybe there’s a sidetrack of you guys chatting to each other to work out what the religious languages and the Halakhic rulings and where in the text we can get this. And who outside of the region do you need validation from, which is important with the Islamic’s fair, who are we going to in Doha or in Egypt and the Al-Azhar Mosque to give you cover?
Joel Braunold
Do you need that cover?” That’s the flexibility and the fluency that we have been lacking. I think it’s one thing that the center also, much like your journey has gone on a journey has reached this point, and it’s not the only thing. We have lots of politics and policy and all the other stuff that we have to do, but that’s an important piece of it as well. And I think that has been a missing piece. And, you know, let’s look at the government coalition. We have an Islamist organization, we have a religious Zionist Prime Minister. Now Naftali Bennett is not, Betzalel Smotrich, you know, he’s not going with the rabbis, but they’re an important constituency as we’ve seen again and again.
Lauren Berkun
Hi, I’m Rabbi Lauren Berkun, Vice President of Rabbinic Initiatives at the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America. Even in the most challenging times for the Jewish people, scholars at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Israel and North America, push themselves to think about what could be and to focus on a Torah of possibility. That’s why we’re so excited to announce that registration for our virtual summer symposium is now open. Over two weeks from July 5th to July 15th, we’ll be running public lectures, small seminars, and lots of opportunities for conversation exploring possible futures for Israel and the diaspora, Zionism and Jewish identity. Featuring top scholars like Donniel Hartman, Yehuda Kurtzer, Mijal Bitton, Rachel Korazim, and Yossi Klein Halevi. You can register today free of charge at summer.hartman.org.il
Yehuda Kurtzer
From the sublime back to the mundane. So I want to talk a little bit about the Nita Lowey bill, which unfortunately, as you may know, there an insurrection in Washington in January of 2021, which had the effect of pushing a lot of other political stories out of the news cycle. The Nita Lowey bill, I think passed in December of 2020. And I know you spent years working on this $250 million for peacebuilding and for building the Palestinian private sector economy. It uses the explicit language of people to people. I thought it was really interesting that it makes explicit that the money can’t run through the PA.
Joel Braunold 
Or the government of Israel.
Yehuda Kurtzer
Right, so it has to be outside of the governments. I have some questions about people to people, but what I’m really interested in is I wrote a taxonomy a few years ago about how to engage with Israel.
Yehuda Kurtzer
What are your options running from what kind of advocacy strategies on one end to anti normalization strategies on the other, and this sits right in the middle, which is what you might call positive engagement versus negative engagement. Positive engagement is incentivize the work with money. Negative engagement is withhold money, essentially BDS. So you’re positioning. This is very clearly to me positioned as the real kind of ideal opposite of BDS. Find ways to support the infrastructure of Palestinian civil society of the economy of peacebuilding, et cetera. The crude question is, is this enough money? What’s going to happen as a result of this kind of investment P2P work died in the Second Intifada.
Joel Braunold
I don’t know if I agree with that.
Joel Braunold
I mean, it was deeply challenged and it evolved. Also what was the purpose of it? I think respectfully, Yehuda that that’s a lazy critique that I think doesn’t take into account any of the data that has been produced on it. The P2P movement actually thrive post the Second Intifada with the growth of shared society. It evolved and adapted. Yes. A version of coexistence died in the Second Intifada but arguably it wasn’t being that effective before hand either if you look at the birth certificates of the movements. But the Lowey funds interesting for a few reasons. So let’s take a step back what’s Congress’s approach been to this conflict. Except for the Qualified Industrial Zones of the 1990s it has funded Israeli military, sometimes economy and punished the Palestinians, but that’s been Congress’s approach. Limit Palestinian assistance. The administration wants to give more. Congress limits and fund go through military.
Joel Braunold
And, you know, we had had a 10 year pilot of like P2P work through what was called the Conflict Management and Mitigation Office. I think it’s 12 years. But ALLMEP, which I ran, had this vision to recreate something called the International Fund for Ireland, which was a very successful model that was created in 1986 at the height of the violence that took congressional money and Commonwealth money. So it was legitimate to both sources and did long-term economic and civic work that helped create the ceasefire in ’94, the peace deal in ’97 and sustain it. So we wanted to have something similar in Israel/Palestine. So what we did and it took a long time and a lot of work was to flip the script, okay. And to move Congress to a new centrist position where its investment, investment in the Palestinian private sector and investment in P2P within, by the way, an establishment clause of the two-state solution.
Joel Braunold
Again, telling you what I said before has to be a horizon and through a bipartisan Congress during Trump, we got it done. We do not have enough time to tell you how we got it done. But we had everyone from AIPAC to J-Street. We had JFNA to Churches for Middle East Peace and everyone in between. And it was a long time coming. A lot of people need to be thanked for that. It was a lot of work, but what we now have is giving the administration the bandwidth and budget to answer the question, what are we doing to make sure the next generation doesn’t hate each other? Because when I used to sit in state department briefings, right at senior levels, everyone would tell me we have neither the bandwidth or budget to talk about this seriously. So it took a lot of time, but we’d given them the bandwidth and budget.
Joel Braunold
So what does a ceiling look like? Right? Because to your point is this enough money, blah, blah, blah. Like the key is this is not a program. This is a policy tool. And it is a policy tool that will be as was effective as much as it’s integrated into policy. So there is an ability to accept multinational funding yesterday, ALLMEP, who I used to run, had a full page in New York times, calling around the G7 to do an even bigger international fund to get even more multilateral money. And we’ll see if that happens. But the aim was to create bandwidth and budget, to deal with this seriously, with the fact that you have 13 million Israelis and Palestinians, we’ve lost the next generation and say, if we’re spending billions in armaments and reconstruction, we should do something on some society in a significant, serious way.
Joel Braunold
So if it’s a policy, is it just like photocopying these programs instead of 60,000 people it’s 600,000 people? No. I think it’s about being strategic. You know, it could be a new center for peace in Jerusalem, on neutral church land. That’s aesthetically beautiful. That demonstrates what a shared city could look like that’s a hub for the peace building community. It could be looking at deprived Israeli communities in the periphery, linking them up with Arab cities, either within Israel or across the border in the West Bank. And by doing something together, they get more resources than doing things separately. So you incentivize cooperation, demonstrating that cooperation has a lived effect for the populations have often been left out. It’s about distributing a potential peace dividends that people recognize that this stuff has cadenced. Now some of that is more P2P programming. Some of that is about being smart about where you put your investments and alongside that there is an economic development program run by the DFC, which is the new international Development Finance Corporation, who is dedicated about building the Palestinian private economy, putting the Palestinian private sector in the driving seat with a preference on things that increase trade between Israelis and Palestinians and recognizing the value of the US dollar so the political argument for this is also, it’s very easy for the Palestinians to ignore everyone, but not the European Union because they need them, which is why this is multilateral.
Joel Braunold
For the Israelis, it’s easy to ignore everything, but it’s difficult to ignore USA, which is why this is an American driven process. The aim was to protect this approach by getting it funded by governments who each side need and know. And in doing so lessening, I keep talking about lessening the vociferousness of opposition, that’s at all levels. And so we designed this to do that. And I am, and others are working with USAID, the DFC, State Department, as they move forward to implement this, to try and get to its ceiling. Now, you know, you know, in bureaucracies, I don’t know if we’re going to get there. You know, it’s hard, it’s always easy to do the easiest thing, but we’ll continue to push because one, it was a tremendous amount of effort to get the fund passed or appropriated and authorized in a relevative –
Joel Braunold
We don’t have a very large lobbying operation, like when I started at ALLMEP, we were at 212,000, right. We had support of some pro-bono K-Street people, a phenomenal board, great members, but like, well, it’s not like we had lobbyists, you know, I like, it’s not like we had like a huge the organization, so we put a lot into it. And I do think there’s a tremendous opportunity here, especially, you know, we look at the intercommunal violence that just happened. We looked at East Jerusalem, you look at the west bank, there’s such a need. And now we have a tool, you know, Nikolay Mladenov was tweeting this morning, the former UN UNSO guy endorsing the ALLMEP campaign to have an international fund. Beause he knows. He saw it. He was on the ground for six years. He also speak to ALLMEP a few years ago. And he spoke about his experiences as foreign minister in Bulgaria, after the Balkans War and how important this work is.
Joel Braunold
But again, this isn’t sufficient it’s necessary. And I will say just one thing on P2P. It’s important people look at the evolution of people to people from before Oslo to Oslo, to the second Intifada and then post-second Intifada. Then post 2014 was another watershed moment for them and sort of what’s going on now. It’s an easy field to stereotype because some of it’s its own faults fully put hands up in terms of over pledging on the delivering. Some of it is because the stuff the media loves is like the softest stuff. Though that is important, right? But it’s a field that has a tremendous resiliency has been vastly underfunded, the mythology of so much funding. I’m happy to go through dollar for dollar. What actually went into the bill versus what people think went into the field. And it’s a field that is learning. Like they know the critiques of single contact dialogue theory.
Joel Braunold
Like they don’t do that. No, one’s just having hummus and going home. It’s a critique, but just stuff that happens. Show me the organization that does it. And so I do think that there’s a lot of learnings and growth in that, but I will say you heard a one thing that I know we have a lot of Jewish community folks who listen to this and potential funders. I think if there’s one thing the last 11 days of conflict showed us this, concept that you can divide Palestinian identity by our funding perspectives, because we don’t want to fund over the green line. I’m not saying for left wing, right wing reasons because they’re just not confident about cross border work. It’s just a myth. I mean, violence against Arabs inside Israel increases with this conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. It’s not the same as racism against Ethiopians.
Joel Braunold
Against Sepharidim in Israel or anything else. I mean, you can share linkages about Askho-normativity, but that’s not really the cause of why people are being fired in the workplace, right. Or anything else. And so the mythology that you can divorce shared society work from the wider political construct is a myth. It is a myth. And I think that funders have to understand that, the groups need to understand that. I’ve had multiple conversations with some very prominent, shared society organizations who used to get frustrated by that. It’s limiting them to only doing stuff that was valenced based politics in Israel. And also like I’ve had critiques of people saying me like, where are the young Arab citizens of Israel involved in the peace movement? I was like, they’re there? It’s just, you don’t want to talk to them on their terms. You want to talk to them on your terms and they don’t see their identity the same way you do. There’s a human capital value chain the P2P community has created that has hundreds, if not, probably over a thousand now, young Arab citizens of Israel who are ready to take leadership positions, but they’re not willing to divide their identity by an armistice line that you seemingly think is so important. And until you meet them there, and if you continue to talk about demographics, they’re not going to talk to you. And I think that’s important that we have to recognize where people are and not where we pretend them to be.
Yehuda Kurtzer
That’s a perfect place for us to stop because I wanted to ask you precisely about what’s the message to American Jewish leaders, the work that you’re doing primarily. Your significant other has been the political system has been Israelis and Palestinians. Mine has predominantly in the American Jewish community. And what I really appreciate and admire about so much of the work that you’ve been doing has been precisely the willingness to ask constantly what are the constructive steps that we can do to remain engaged with the positive outcomes that we want. It’s as simple as that, it is basically optimism lived into the world, not the optimist of naivete, right?
Joel Braunold
Optimism with political savvy is how I’ve termed it.
Yehuda Kurtzer
Beautiful. And for me, with the work that we want to do at Hartman of retaining the American Jewish community to be in relationship with the State of Israel, we’re always going to need tools that American Jews can locate to make them feel that they are participating in the building of something that is better. As opposed to leaving them bereft and feeling that their only option is to blindly loyally support, what exists or blindly loyally oppose what exists. So with that, I want to thank you, Joel, for your work and thanks so much for being an Identity/Crisis this week. Thanks to all of you for listening. Identity/Crisis is a product of the Shalom Hartman Institute. It was produced this week by David Zvi Kalman and edited by Alex Dillon with assistance from Miri Miller and music provided by “So-called,” To learn more about the Shalom Hartman Institute, visit us online at shalomhartman.org. We’d love to know what you think about the show. You can rate and review us on iTunes to help more people find the show. And you can write to us [email protected] You can subscribe to identity crisis in the apple podcast app, Spotify, SoundCloud, audible, and everywhere else. Podcasts are available. We’ll see you next week. Thanks.