Sunday, December 13, 2015

Understanding Mistakes: The Odeh "Snub" of the CPMJO

Last week, a meeting between the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations and Israeli Palestinian MK Ayman Odeh fell apart when the latter refused to enter offices that the CPMJO shares with the Jewish Agency. Odeh contends that the Jewish Agency is an important element of anti-Arab discrimination in Israel, and asserted that he would have been happy to meet in a different location. The CPMJO, for its part, refused to endorse what was an effective "no platforming" of one of its partner organizations. The incident marred an otherwise important and productive trip to America where Odeh connected with many prominent Jewish organizations.

I consider both parties to have made a mistake. Odeh shouldn't have refused to meet in the offices, and when he did the CPMJO should have accommodated by moving the meeting. But the mistakes are understandable ones stemming from understandable motives.

Odeh already faces pressure from some of his Arab constituents for meeting with Jewish groups at all; its possible that this would have been a bridge too far (or, less optimistically, that he needed to take a stand like this to whip up said base and show he hasn't gone soft). These are realistic concerns faced by any politician. As for the CPMJO, right now one the most serious threats to Jewish global equality are efforts to box out Jewish institutions from normal processes of public dialogue. So anything that even hints at no platforming or boycotting pushes on a very sensitive pressure point.

Ultimately, I don't think these concerns should have trumped. It's too important to take the chances to build connections and bridges when given the opportunity. And Odeh is perhaps a once-in-a-generation political leader of the Israeli Palestinian community with whom American Jews desperately need a bond. Though this was a mistake, hopefully the fact that it was an understandable mistake will not cause it to permanently sabotage future opportunities.

UPDATE: I consider this to be a positive step.

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