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Journalist discusses MidEast conflict

Published: October 19, 2007
Section: News


Its not about real estate its about values.

That was the key message conveyed by Jerusalem Post columnist Amotz Asa-El in a lecture addressing the Israel-Palestinian conflict at the Rapaporte Treasure Hall on Thursday evening.

Benjamin Gorelick 11, a member of the Brandeis Zionist Alliance (BZA) who organized the event along with Birthright Alumni, introduced Asa-Els long resume. Asa-El received graduate degrees at both Columbia University and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Since 1995, Asa-El has served as the business editor (1995-1999), news editor (1999-2000), editor-in-chief (2000-2002), and executive editor (2002-2005) of the Jerusalem Post. Currently Asa-El is serving as the Posts senior political commentator and has appeared as a Middle-East analyst for the BBC, SKY, and NPR. Asa-El also currently holds a position as a lecturer for the Shalem Centers Institute for Philosophy, Politics, and Religion.

Asa-El began by revealing that he held a soft spot for Brandeis, because he briefly studied at Brandeis in 1987 before going to Columbia University. Just like Thomas Friedman 75, who Asa-El considers a friend, he got his start writing for the Justice as well as doing work for WBRS.

Titled The New Israeli Consensus, Asa-Els lecture focused mainly the evolution of his personal experiences and opinions while combining quotes and anecdotes from influential Israeli and Palestinian leaders. Asa-El, as a young man growing up in Jerusalem believed that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was about the real estate. And because it was just about borders, Asa-El thought that surely a deal [between the Palestinians and Israelis] could be struck.

As the lecture progressed, Asa-El presented stories from his personal life that changed his view of the conflict. He mentioned that when he was the Business Editor for the Post, he and the rest of the Business section were happy to learn in 1995 that Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres was working with the Palestinians to establish a special economic zone in the Palestinian territories that would help Palestinians who were unemployed.

Asa-El and the business section waited, day after day and month after month as the Palestinians kept finding new excuses against reaching a deal. Finally when Peres left office in 1996, the Palestinians claimed, according to Asa-El, that the deal only wouldve worked with Shimon Peres.

It was at this point, Asa-El said, that his views began to shift and he started to see the conflict in a different light. He said that maybe there was something nave about the way I was thinking abut the conflict.

Another story Asa-El told with passion was of a suicide bombing in 2001 after the Oslo Peace Accords fell through. When driving his daughter Shira to school one morning, Asa-El heard a symphony of sirens went off and a whole envoy of ambulances went by, as he turned into the road of Shiras school. As Asa-El predicted, this incident was one in a string of suicide bus attacks, and this attack left eighteen school children dead.

Finally, Asa-El recounted a meeting he had with former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. In meeting Sharon one of the most powerful men in the entire world he said he saw the most lonely man Ive ever seen. Coming off the death of his wife and the questioning of his sons in a crime, Sharon was obviously shaken, according to Asa-El. They had a long interview and at one point Asa-El asked about the situation with his sons, to which Sharon answered, the police will do their job and I will do my job.

Asa-El said that he was struck by Sharons adherence to the law. While Sharon probably could have overstepped the law according to Asa-El he answered to the higher authority. This was a distinction he made between the Palestinians and Israelis and something that completely changed his view of the conflict. He believed and then came to argue the position that the Palestinians and Israelis are still fighting because of their values. He claimed Israel was willing to compromise and that every Israeli wants peace deep down inside, and values peace, while the Palestinians continue to cut off negotiations and attack civilians.

Its not about the real estate its about values. Its about whether or not you respect life itself, he said.