New Yorker writer on journalists' role in Israel-Palestine peace process

Photo of Dr. Bruce Wexler and Bernard Avishai
Dr. Bruce Wexler (left), professor emeritus and senior research scientist in psychiatry at Yale, and Bernard Avishai, contributor for The New Yorker and visiting professor of government at Dartmouth University

Americans are not getting the full story about the conflict in the Middle East from their government or media, according to The New Yorker contributor Bernard Avishai.

Avishai shared his more than 45 years of experience reporting on Israel-Palestine with students and members of the Yale community during a Poynter Fellowship in Journalism lecture at Linsly-Chittenden Hall on Nov. 2. He advocated for a peaceful two-state solution and suggested there were economic and cultural advantages of an independent state of Palestine existing alongside the state of Israel.

At some level the two-state solution can never be dead, because its logic is self-evident. There are two culturally distinct communities that speak different languages and practice distinct religions,” Avishai said. “What is not reasonable is to think of the two-state solution as a separation. It is not a divorce, but an implicit confederation.”

When asked by an audience member whether America is in the position to act as a broker in the Israel-Palestine peace process, Avishai argued that America only made progress when it became a player in past negotiations, by stating its interests in the region. He believes the Trump administration is as well positioned for involvement in Israel-Palestine peace efforts as any other U.S. administration in recent history.

Calling the national security team “seasoned” in their understanding of the Middle East conflict, particularly U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, Avishai revealed a little-known concern of these experts.

They are legitimately terrified that Jordan will fall. What doesn’t get reported enough is how vulnerable they think Jordan is,” he said, emphasizing the possibility that West Bank riots could destabilize the country.

Avishai also thinks the demographics and economics in the region are vital to understanding the conflict, but underreported by the American media. One example, he said, is the American media’s omission of how the Israeli government prevents the flow of individuals with talent into Palestine.

These people are not bringing in guns; they want to start software businesses,” Avishai said.

Avishai, an adjunct professor of business at the Hebrew University, argued that Palestine’s business ecosystem must be integrated with Israel’s if it is to survive. In his opinion, he noted, the key to Palestinian economic growth is intellectual capital for entrepreneurial business.

Following Avishai's lecture, Dr. Bruce Wexler, professor emeritus and senior research scientist in psychiatry at Yale, offered a response to the journalist’s remarks. Wexler who founded “A Different Future,” a non-governmental organization created to reclaim the public idea space from extremists regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, emphasized the organized opposition to peace and how unilateral national narratives can maintain division.

While governments may sow division, journalists can unite the public, Avishai said, adding that he believes the true journalistic vocation is to be “a custodian of the liberal democratic ideal” that is at stake in the Israel-Palestine conflict.

I think journalists do have a role to play in the peace process. They write stories in order to valorize the forces in a country that are reinforcing the integrity of the commonwealth,” he said.

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