A divisive, us-versus-them approach to debating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict impedes progress, argued pro-Israel activist Chloé Valdary at a Nov. 28 discussion.

The U.S. conversation regarding the conflict, a decadeslong struggle between Israelis and Palestinians over the two sides’ competing claims to lands controlled by Israel, pits proponents of Israeli security and self-determination against advocates for the rights of Palestinians.

Valdary, who works as director of partnerships and a Shillman Fellow at the educational film production company Jerusalem U, said an oppressor-versus-oppressed framing misrepresents the conflict.

Pro-Israel activist Chloé Valdary argued against inter sectionalism as a lens to understand the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In an oppressor-versus-oppressed mindset, Valdary said, morality only supports victims. She said Americans who supported Zionism out of a shared sense of oppression or intersectionality could no longer view Israel as relatable or even “moral” once it won statehood.

“If you see history through this very narrow framework, anything that falls out of these boxes, you can no longer fight for, you can no longer stand for. It’s a worldview, in my opinion, that doesn’t allow for complexity,” Valdary said. “Instead of having that paradigm, why don’t we just empower everyone?”

She criticized the concept of intersectionality for reinforcing categorical labels of the “us-versus-them” binary.

“Intersectionality is responding to categorization, but it is not, in my mind, challenging the categories,” Valdary said. “It is reinforcing the categories, in a sense, because it is making claims that I, as a person of color, have most assuredly experienced ‘x’ at the hands of someone who was white by virtue of being in the categories, in the skin colors that we have.”

Instead of intersectionality, Valdary proposed restorative justice, or repairing harm caused by misdeeds, and her “theory of enchantment,” which is the promotion of constructive discussions about differences to build compassion for a common humanity, as alternative paradigms through which to understand the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Valdary said she hopes to transcend the “us-versus-them binary” through this approach.

“Restorative justice tries to transcend that [us-versus-them] and ask the question, ‘How can we heal both of our communities?’ That is something I’m very much attracted to,” Valdary said.

If Israelis and Palestinians could stop seeing their losses as the other group’s gains, they could move toward healing, Valdary said.

Georgetown Israel Alliance President Sean Lerner (SFS ’20) and Vice President Tanner Larkin (SFS ’20) organized the event, hosted by the GIA and the Georgetown University Lecture Fund, to bridge what Lerner called a “racialized” divide in the Israeli-Palestinian discussion on campus.

“I’ve known about Chloé for a while. She’s pretty popular in the young pro-Israel world, especially on social media,” Lerner said. “We also recognized that there was a sort of element around the discussion of Israel-Palestine on this campus that was racialized in a way; there was a divide in the community.”

Valdary encouraged students to analyze the dilemmas Israelis and Palestinians face while recognizing that some of them are currently irreconcilable and to engage with organizations that bring together contrasting perspectives.

“We, as students and educators, need to volunteer for those organizations, seek out those organizations that are bringing Israelis and Palestinians together and creating dialogue,” Valdary said. “Dialogue that might not have all the answers, but… is much more interested in saying, ‘Even though you and I disagree about x, y and z, our goal is to foster compassion and empathy in the midst of profound disagreement.’”

Ultimately, Valdary said she hopes to redefine how people conceptualize the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“We are so much more than these weird, objectified terminologies. I think we have to enter the conversation with the desire to lean in toward the other, so that we can see ourselves in them and see them in ourselves,” Valdary said.

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One Comment

  1. Hasi Wagibigit says:

    What a wonderful oncept. Unfortunately, given the tribal stone-age mentality of one of the parties, it won’t work. The idea depends on an assumption of reasonableness by both parties to the conflict. History has shown time and again (we have such a penchant for ignoring the lessons of history) that one of the parties will enter the dialogue with a hidden agenda that assumes any ‘give’ by the other side is a sign of weakness (difficult to accept that an inhuman society that glorifies martyrdom and terrorism can be reasonable) and fall right back into the original paradigm of tribal conflict.

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