Miller hits Mideast myths, praises bVIEW's initiative
Student conference draws the Israel-interested from 17 universities
The banners of the Brandeis Israel Public Affairs Committee and J Street U Brandeis hung side by side on the wall of Levin Ballroom, symbolic of progress made by the student group Brandeis Visions for Israel in an Evolving World (bVIEW) toward depolarizing and raising the quality of campus discourse on Israel.
A bVIEW-organized conference on those goals drew more than 200 students from 17 area universities to campus Sunday, Jan. 27, motivating the veteran American diplomat and Middle East negotiator who delivered the keynote address to remark that bVIEW’s approach to discussion of Israel was “worth bottling and taking on the road.”
Aaron David Miller, now a vice president of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for scholars, said he was not aware of any other organization with bVIEW’s goals and approach.
President Fred Lawrence, who welcomed attendees to the conference, said the bVIEW effort was in the best tradition of Brandeis University and hoped “we will view this as the first annual bVIEW conference and that we will continue to expand our reach.”
In his keynote, Miller reviewed current problems in the US-Israel relationship and in American engagement in the Middle East generally, and concluded that he could not imagine an agreement that would resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict within the next several years.
He focused on a number of what he called myths regarding the US-Israel relationship, starting with the proposition advanced by many supporters of Israel that the two nations’ “interests are congruent and must be, across the board. This is illogical and irrational,” and demands too much of both countries.
Both the defenders of Israel who deny or minimize the influence of the American Jews on US politicians and the critics of Israel who say American Jews hold US policy hostage are wrong, he said, and so are those who assert that strategic interests or military and technological alliances bind the United States and Israel.
The countries’ shared values are the foundation of their close relationship, Miller said, and this will not change substantially so long as the perception of shared values continues.
“Barack Obama is not an enemy of the State of Israel,” Miller said. “He also is not a member of the Zionist Organization of America...He did not grow up with the images of Israelis as cowboys and Palestinians as Indians.”
Obama “does not situate Israel primarily on the continuum of values affinity, he situates it on the continuum of national security,” Miller said, and therefore sees issues more in the gray tones of diplomacy than in black and white.
He confirmed the widely held perception that Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have a poor relationship, saying that “Netanyahu thinks Obama is bloodless… and the president believes the prime minister is a con man” who does not respect American interests.
Miller said he was not trying to give the students advice, but before taking questions he offered several observations that could be taken that way.
“The happiest people I know professionally are the people who manage to combine passion and expertise,” he said. “Passion without expertise is dangerous. Expertise without passion is fundamentally boring.”
Regarding the Israeli-Arab struggle, he said: “This conflict has sides. You can easily adopt one or another. But, if you do, you will never understand Israel or the reality of the Middle East, and you will never change the situation.”
Lawrence, in his welcoming remarks, praised bVIEW members and others who want to elevate the quality of discussion of Israel, and invoked Justice Louis Brandeis’ statement that “in the frank expression of conflicting opinion lies the greatest promise of wisdom…”
Panels and small-group discussions on the program featured a broad array of professors from Brandeis and elsewhere and young Israelis and Palestinians who spoke of their personal experiences.