Conference Explores Peace Through Education

Israeli-Palestinian coexistence and how to achieve it: That was the topic on everybody’s lips when the 24th Annual Academic Conference convened at the Century Plaza Hotel last weekend. The panel, sponsored by American Friends of the Hebrew University, was followed by a luncheon featuring keynote speaker Dennis Prager, the KABC radio host best known for his “Religion on the Line” program.

During the three-hour panel titled “From Conflict to Conciliation: Two Sides of the Same Story — An Israeli and Palestinian Perspective,” Dr. Ruth Firer, a Holocaust survivor, and Dr. Sami Adwan, a Hebron-raised Palestinian, talked about their research and their commitment to bring their two cultures together through education.

Firer and Adwan discussed strategies they have developed at the university’s Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace, which include focus groups and revisions of Israeli and Palestinian textbooks so as to give schoolchildren a more balanced and empathetic read on their respective and shared histories. In the hope of positively influencing future generations on both sides, the Israeli-based academians will target impressionable pre-adolescents with their methods. Despite their enthusiasm and optimism, the team promised no overnight solutions, describing their work as the beginning steps of a long-term process.

Rounding out the panel were Temple Emanuel’s Rabbi Laura Geller, who served as moderator; Paul L. Scham, J.D., research development coordinator at the Truman Institute; and Joe E. Hicks, executive director of the Los Angeles City Human Relations Commission, who drew parallels between Israeli-Palestinian dialogue problems with communication breakdown in multi-ethnic Los Angeles.

After the conference, Prager admitted to the luncheon crowd that he has always been “in the middle” regarding the intersection of American Jewry and Israeli politics. The radio personality lectured on the importance for American Jews to concentrate on establishing a strong religious and cultural identity in this country, rather than meddling in Israeli issues. Basing his opinion on discussions with American Muslim and Jewish leaders over his 15-year broadcast career, Prager placed his faith in American forms of Judaism and Islam as role models to resuscitate their ailing Middle Eastern counterparts. — Michael Aushenker, Community Editor