A Fair Conference

THE MAIL

To the Editors of The Crimson:

Closed-mindedness and an unwillingness to negotiate have for years blocked all effective paths to peace in the Middle East. It is saddening, therefore, to see these same sentiments made public in the name of moderation: specifically, in a recent letter to the editors of The Crimson entitled "A Biased Forum." The letter was apparently an attempt to undermine the validity of this weekend's conference on peace in the Middle East. "Common Ground," and although it is too late to respond to some of Laura Wharton. '83's criticisms before the Sunday segment of the conference, the record, and tonight's closing panel, demand an explanation.

There are many accusations in the letter which deserve correction--the misleading suggestion that the Middle East Education Project (MEEP), the organizing committee, is in any way affiliated with the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA); the incorrect charge that no one belonging to Hillel was involved with the planning; the almost slanderous portrayal of some of the speakers and the fallacious claim that many of them do not support Israel's right to exist--but little will be gained by refuting the argument point by point. The larger issue to be addressed is that of the intentions and opinions of the organizers of the conference, and the way in which the event itself represents those intentions.

Ms. Wharton makes the argument that the conference is a "sham," and that it was somehow organized with the intention of the State of Israel. In fact, the idea of presenting a symposium of this sort arose precisely because we have been upset by the anti-Israel nature of many local responses to the war in Lebanon (the demonstrations at Holyoke Center, for example) and felt that such rallies and demonstrations were not the best way to confront this situation. The Israel-Arab conflict encompasses far more than the recent events in Lebanon, and its complexity deserves a format encouraging informational presentations and discussion, not slogan chanting. It was with this concern in mind that we--a varied group of undergraduates, almost all Jewish, whose other activities encompass leftist and community activism, Zionism, nuclear issues, and Hillel programs--initiated the conference.

As was made clear in our introductory remarks yesterday, it is very true that "Common Ground" does not present "a full spectrum of opinions" on these issues. It is not clear, however, how that fact affects the event's legitimacy. A series of angry, polemical arguments presenting extremist views would not, in our opinion, lend itself to the atmosphere of conciliation and compromise that we hoped to create in this conference. Our aim was education through discussion, not point-counterpoint. This does not mean that our speakers are "homogeneous": every MEEP organizational meeting was characterized by heated debate over the choice of speakers, and the ultimate line-up was determined as much by the limited number of Jews and Palestinians available and willing to speak together on this issue in public as by any theological intentions of our own.

It is also true that MEEP members share an acceptance of the concept of a negotiated two-state solution, and again there is no clear reason why that should detract from the conference's validity. Some form of two-state solution is currently regarded by many Arabs, Jews, and Americans--even that radical's radical, Ronald Reagan--as one of the few viable options for eventual resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Sunday's events are over, and we can only hope that Laura Wharton's letter did not deter those people whom we very much wanted to attend--namely, those Jews concerned with Israel and able to bring a love for that country to the discussion--from coming to the first part of "Common Ground." The conference continues this evening, and we hope that everyone truly interested in educating themselves and airing their opinions on the issues will attend the panel discussion tonight in the Science Center. The Middle East Education Project (MEEP)   Steve Epstein '83   Jack Rebinovitz '83   Tracy Sivitz '83   Toba Spitzer '85   Barry Zellen '85