The Shalom Hartman Institute houses MLI in response to a stated need by Abdullah Antepli, and echoed by many participants and alumni, for a deeper understanding of the meaning of Israel to the Jewish people. The Institute is a field leader and an ideal partner and provider on this issues. The Institute’s foci since its inception have included a serious scholarly reckoning with the ways in which the creation of the State of Israel has transformed and challenged historical Jewish self-understandings in the realm of theology, politics, and law, as well as a deep engagement with the challenges of what it means for Israel to try to be both Jewish and democratic, an articulation of a morality of the use of power and the exercise of war, and the meaning of Jewish peoplehood in an age of nation-states and diasporas. The overwhelming majority of Institute programs are designed for Jewish audiences to wrestle seriously with these questions; the MLI program was expressly designed to provide Muslim leaders the same curriculum of “internal wrestling” as the Institute offers to Jewish audiences. In this respect, from an educational perspective, MLI has entailed an act of trust on our part – that our internal struggles as a people can be educationally useful to another group of people seeking to understand us and build bridges to us, even though understanding the same complexities could be leveraged more cynically to undermine the integrity of Jewish communal identity.
The Shalom Hartman Institute is not competent in the discipline, nor committed to the mission, of teaching Palestinian narratives. We do confront ‘dual narratives,’ but more from the perspective of what it means for our community to reckon with the narrative of “the other” and to be in relationship with “the other” – moral obligations we take seriously – and not because we position ourselves as ‘balanced’ between these two narratives. We are rooted firmly in the narrative of one community, and we do our best to interrogate the moral foundations of that narrative and to then articulate its best versions – even if that narrative sits uncomfortably with current political realities.
Accordingly, we have built an educational program that is rooted in our competencies. At the same time, all MLI trips include time with Palestinians and in Palestinian territories, because to understand the State of Israel participants need some exposure to the diversity of experiences and perspectives of Palestinians, both inside and across the Green Line. Many MLI participants have spent time in separate educational and activist experiences with Palestinians in Palestine, and the experience of MLI is complementary or supplementary to those experiences – and not intended as the entirety of how one is meant to encounter the people, ideas, and conflicts across Israel-Palestine.
MLI remains an educational program for Muslims with hopes and consequences for future Muslim-Jewish relations in North America; but it is not in itself a dialogue program. From the beginning of MLI, we have hoped that there would emerge a credible institution to create a reciprocal program for Jewish leaders to study Muslim and Palestinian narratives and self-understandings. That program would be initiated by the Muslim community; and we, in turn, would be prepared to cooperate with such a program once it is created.