The One State Conference that took place this weekend at the Harvard Kennedy School triggered an outpouring of furious debate about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The conference, featuring speakers from various universities and diverse religious and ethnic backgrounds, explored a solution in which Israel and the Palestinian Territories would unite into a single secular state with equal rights for all. Some members of the pro-Israel Jewish community have declared the conference “anti-Semitic;” others, such as Harvard Students for Israel have disagreed with the conference’s ideas but emphasized its right to take place. As members of the Progressive Jewish Alliance and supporters of a two-state solution, we believe that this conference raised important issues that have a valuable place in the campus discourse on Israel-Palestine, but are concerned by some of the extreme rhetoric that it has triggered.
As progressives, we believe in principle that ethnicity should not be intertwined with the state. All citizens should be treated as equals; no voting laws, housing laws, immigration laws, or indeed any laws should distinguish based on ethnicity. To do otherwise inevitably leads to inequity and social injustice. Even declaring an official state ethnicity without enacting discriminatory laws symbolically designates certain people as second-class citizens. Of course, this equality need not detract from the cultural diversity, which would continue to exist on a local and personal level. The state simply should not be in the business of privileging one culture or religion over another.
Unfortunately, it is sometimes difficult to enact progressive principles in a world mired in racism and oppression. Abolishing all ethnic state lines today would simply be impractical in a world where ethnic states abound, from Slovenia to Japan to Bangladesh. Moreover, historical attempts at multi-ethnic states have frequently failed dramatically and violently—consider, for example, the Balkan states and Sudan. Even in multi-ethnic states that haven’t broken apart, one group is often oppressed or discriminated against.
Attempting to enforce our ideal on states with a long history of ethnic and religious conflict would simply cause more violence and perpetuate violations of human rights. Thus, while we would love to see a peaceful and egalitarian one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we think it only practical to continue working toward a two-state solution. It is unfair to ask the Israelis and Palestinians who dream of having their own ethnic nation-states to give up these aspirations without demanding the same of every country in the world. While we theoretically admire the ideals of a one-state solution, in practice, a single state seems an ineffective and dangerous policy solution—and so we cannot endorse or advocate for it in today’s world. It is essential to end the oppression that many One-State Conference speakers noted occurs in Palestine today, but we doubt that a one-state solution could do this successfully. Thus, we hope that the Conference’s call for a re-envisioning of peace negotiations will galvanize those who truly support a peaceful two-state solution not to lash out, but to work harder for a truly just and effective path toward a two-state solution.
Although we cannot imagine that a one-state solution would effectively resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, alternatives to a two-state solution are legitimate topics of discussion, and the One State Conference was a good-faith attempt to propose a peaceful solution to the conflict in which all people are given equal rights. We understand the frustration that many—ourselves included—feel about the possibility of a two-state solution, as negotiations seem to be constantly unproductive and stalled. Indeed, fair negotiations are incredibly difficult given the current power dynamic in Israel and Palestine and Israel’s continued occupation of the Palestinian territories. These flaws have provided the impetus for academic conversation about other peace-making options, including the discussion that took place at the One State Conference last weekend. Thus, the conference should not be regarded as an attempt to delegitimize Israel but rather as an attempt, albeit an imperfect one, to resolve the problems inherent in the negotiations for a two-state solution.
While we believe that there should be space on campus for discussion of a one-state solution, we are concerned about the inflammatory responses it has elicited from some in both the pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian communities. No solution to the conflict will be possible unless people engage each other in meaningful dialogue instead of exchanging insults of “anti-Semitism” and “racism.” Any statement that seeks mainly to demonize the other side and blame the entire conflict on one group is a step away from peace. We hope that Jews and Palestinians alike can participate in respectful dialogue, seek to understand each others’ perspectives, and thereby work towards a practical, peaceful, and just solution to the conflict.
Emily S. Unger ’13 is an organismic and evolutionary biology concentrator in Quincy House. Sandra Y. L. Korn ’14, a Crimson associate editorial editor, is a history of science and studies of women, gender, and sexuality joint concentrator in Eliot House. Both are on the board of the Progressive Jewish Alliance.