December 7, 2019

Grateful for a Ray of Light

“There’s a crack in everything,” Leonard Cohen famously wrote in one of his songs. “That’s how the light gets in.”

For the better part of a century, one issue in particular has stubbornly resisted that poetic prophecy — the issue of relations between Israel and Arab nations. On that front, what has fallen through the cracks are resentment, violence and darkness, not light.

Even the “successful” efforts, such as Israel’s peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, have led to, at best, a “cold peace” of convenience. The much-ballyhooed Oslo Peace process of 1993, which was supposed to end the intractable conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, today feels like a bitter and distant memory that only made the conflict even more intractable.

Into this darkness enters a group of prominent Arabs who decided they’ve had enough. Enough with the animosity. Enough with the boycotts. Enough with failure.

On Nov. 19, this group entered a London hotel to begin rewriting history.

This was not one of those contrived photo ops between adversaries who pretend to smile for the benefit of powerful sponsors, usually the United States. Over the years, God knows we’ve seen hundreds of these faux peace meetings between Israelis and Palestinians — and what have they gotten us? Not just failure after failure, but cynicism and despair.

This London conference was different — it was not between Arabs and Jews but between Arabs and Arabs. It was not interfaith but innerfaith.

This London conference was different — it was not between Arabs and Jews but between Arabs and Arabs. It was innerfaith, not interfaith.

The attendees were not there to negotiate land and water rights; they were there to negotiate love, friendship and integration; to discuss how to repair relations with the Jewish state.

We were lucky enough to find an experienced freelance reporter in London, Jenni Frazer, who covered this historic conference for the Jewish Journal. This is how she begins her story:

“On a cold Tuesday morning, in a relatively anonymous west London hotel, a little bit of history was made.

“It’s not unusual to see veiled or head-scarved women in this area, or prosperous men gathering in the Millennium Gloucester hotel’s lobby, all obviously Middle Eastern in origin. But it is almost certainly the first time that the men and women from the Arab world, gathering in this hotel, had such striking things to say about their countries’ fractured relationships with Israel and Jews — not least condemning the boycott and boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement — and how to go about mending these broken bridges.

“Thirty people from all walks of civil society, from 15 Arab countries, took part in the creation of a new body, the Arab Council for Regional Integration. Their mission is one of ‘peace and love and friendship,’ whose aim is to repair relations with the Jewish state.”

I encourage you to read the entire story to see how the conference came about, what it accomplished in London, and what it hopes to accomplish in the future. If the miracle of peace ever comes about, history may look back on that cold Tuesday morning in London as the little moment of truth that started it all.

What I find especially poignant is that this ray of light is coming at a moment of growing darkness for world Jewry. In fact, the day after the conference, the Anti-Defamation League released its global survey showing that about 1 in 4 Europeans polled “harbor pernicious and pervasive attitudes toward Jews.”

If the miracle of peace ever comes about, history may look back on that cold Tuesday morning in London as the little moment of truth that started it all.

On the day that we were covering the London story, I was at a luncheon in Los Angeles for donors and activists fighting BDS. The last thing on everyone’s mind was that a ray of light may come from the “other side.” Unfortunately, especially in recent years and especially on college campuses, Jews have been conditioned by reality to see mostly anger and hatred coming from the other side.

The anti-Israel movement, in the U.S. and abroad, has mushroomed beyond all proportion. No failure of Israeli policies can justify the level of animosity and discrimination directed at the Jewish state from all sides of the ideological spectrum.

For decades now, the pro-Israel community has assumed that those best positioned to fight Jew-hatred and BDS were the Jews themselves. The London conference has shuffled the cards. “You’re not alone,” the founders of the new group seem to be telling us. “We may be on the other side, but we understand your side, too.”

It’s tempting to be cynical and say there’s no way 30 prominent Arab figures can move the boulder of a century-old conflict. That may be true, but it would be taking the road most traveled.

The Jewish way is to never give up on hope. Certainly not when that hope comes from an unlikely group of courageous people who found a little crack in the darkness — and showed us a ray of light.

Happy Thanksgiving.