Soul-searching needed by both organizations

To the editor:

In his column (“YFI Comments Miss Point of Conference,” 10/27), Arab Students’ Association Co-President Tammer Riad raises some important points in response to comments made by members of the Yale Friends of Israel regarding the ASA’s recent conference, “Thinking In and Out of Crisis.” Riad rightly points out that the YFI are certainly mistaken if they believe that comments praising the inward-looking nature of the conference will magically absolve Israel of any responsibility in the current problems Arab countries — in particular those in the Middle East — are faced with today.

Last week’s conference showed the ASA’s will to confront, as Arabs, the serious problems that plague the Arab world today, regardless of whether or not they relate to Israel. This type of honest enquiry, a soul-searching enterprise of sorts, is encouraging primarily because it shows a sincere desire to get to the root of issues that many Arabs, and others, may find difficult to face.

It is regrettable then that Riad fails to capitalize on his organization’s experience with the conference in order to challenge the YFI to engage in some soul-searching of its own. Rather than explaining how the prospect of democracy in the Middle East has the potential to jeopardize Israel’s very existence — a threat that makes even a moderate Jew such as me ill at ease — it might have been wiser, and indeed more conducive to measured, intelligent dialogue for Riad and the ASA to incite the YFI to respond to the precedent set by the ASA conference.

If the ASA and the YFI both hope to find enough common ground, or to keep their cool long enough, to engage in some serious dialogue, then the only possible strategy is the following. Both groups must be prepared first to confront the skeletons lurking in their respective closets through honest and open debate within their own camp. Second (and here comes the really tough part), both parties must be prepared to sit down and talk. The ASA has shown itself capable of completing step one, and I call on the YFI to follow its lead.

If, however, both organizations would prefer to remain politically infantile and hurl insults and threats at each other on these pages and elsewhere, then they need only do one thing: keep up the good work.

Sam Freeman ’05

Oct. 27, 2003

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