Jewish Journal

Nuanced Views of the World

by  David A. Lehrer

January 21, 2010 | 8:02 pm

This past weekend I participated in the Annual Leadership Educational Forum (“ALEF”). Sponsored by the American Friends of the Hebrew University in Los Angeles, it’s a once a year gathering of Hebrew University leaders from around the country to discuss the state of the university and to tap into the intellectual riches of HU.

Sunday’s panels at the Beverly Hills Hotel covered a fascinating array of topics—-neuroscience, anti-Semitism, and Islam’s relations with the United States and Israel. The presenters were an impressive group of experts (from Israel and LA) in their fields who offered sane, sober and thoughtful analyses.

What struck me most about the presentations was the moderation and avoidance of hyperbole that too often infects talks to Jewish groups on topics such as Israel and anti-Semitism.

The panel on Islam included Ambassador Efraim Halevy, former head of the Mossad and former national security advisor to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon

(not to Shimon Peres, but to Sharon

, i.e. not a bleeding heart).

Halevy’s message, amplified by his colleague Prof. Moshe Maoz, an expert on Arab and Middle East affairs, and Dr. Omar Kader, an American and former head of the national Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee, was that there is much that is positive that is going on in the diverse and complex Muslim world and that we should not succumb to a simplistic and myopic view of that difficult and challenging problem.

It was, to say the least, a refreshing and uplifting message; urging thoughtful analysis while also admitting the complexity of the topic was instructive. That it came from, among others, one of the historic figures of the Mossad made it even more compelling.

The panel I moderated similarly reaffirmed a nuanced and thoughtful approach to a tough problem. This time the issue was anti-Semitism. Instead of the all too common “gevalt, the sky is falling” message, Prof. Robert Wistrich, author of the just published tome,

A Lethal Obsession: Anti-Semitism from Antiquity to the Global Jihad

, offered a historical analysis of anti-Semitism and, along with Prof. Michael Berenbaum, former director of the United States Holocaust Research Institute at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum and me, agreed that the United States is unique in its acceptance of Jews. We concurred on the absence of serious anti-Semitism here and explored the reasons why that is so.

This message—- of a tempered and reasoned approach to volatile issues—- and the admonition to not succumb to simplistic fear-mongering (from no less than one of the Mossad’s heroic former heads) was a valuable one that seemed to be heard by the several hundred folks present; it ought to have resonance far beyond those gathered at ALEF.

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