December 6, 2023

Does Everyone Have to Choose Sides between Israel and the Palestinians?

Event Series: Free Speech at the Crossroads: International Dialogues

Does Everyone Have to Choose Sides between Israel and the Palestinians?

On October 7, 2023, Hamas launched a multi-pronged attack against Israel, killing more 1,400 Israelis, mostly civilians, and kidnapping about 240 to be taken hostage. One day later, Israel declared war on Hamas, leading to a military escalation that has killed over 11,000 Palestinians. As the world grapples with the disastrous state of affairs and horrifying headlines that have emerged from the region, the impact has spread to many other countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom. The situation has resulted in bitter polarization, and sometimes even violence, in higher education and civil society; some career government officials and political appointees have resigned over the Biden administration’s stance. Is productive and reasoned dialogue still possible around Israel's right to defend itself, the future of Gaza, and related issues going back decades? How should the international community address the deep discord that has arisen around the conflict? What can be done to foster productive policies that will push for peace?

This event is co-sponsored by the Free Speech Project (Georgetown University) and the Future of the Humanities Project (Georgetown University and Blackfriars Hall and Campion Hall, Oxford).

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons user Ted Eytan.


Yael Aronoff, a professor of political science and international relations at James Madison College of Michigan State University, directs the Michael and Elaine Serling Institute for Jewish Studies and Modern Israel and is the Serling Chair of Israel Studies at MSU. She served as the president of the Association of Israel Studies from 2019 to 2021, and has written about the need for policies that will cool tensions in the Middle East.

David Jones chairs the Council for Arab-British Understanding and was selected as the Conservative Party’s candidate for Clwyd West at the 2005 general election. Upon his election, he joined the Welsh Affairs Select Committee. Re-elected to Parliament in 2010, he was appointed Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Wales. At the 2019 general election, Jones was re-elected again as the member of Parliament for Clwyd West.

Debra Shushan is the first-ever director of policy at J Street, a pro-Israel, pro-peace organization in Washington, DC that believes in a negotiated settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She previously oversaw J Street’s congressional advocacy operations as director of government affairs. An analyst of U.S. foreign policy, Shushan was previously director of policy and government relations at Americans for Peace Now. She holds a B.A. from Harvard, an MPhil from Oxford, and a Ph.D. from Yale.

Jamie Stern-Weiner is a Ph.D. candidate in area studies at the University of Oxford. His edited collection, Moment of Truth: Tackling Israel-Palestine’s Toughest Questions, was published by OR Books in 2018. He is currently editing a book on the 2023 Gaza conflict. He has written about Middle East politics for various publications, including Jadaliyya, MERIP, Jacobin, the Nation, and VICE. A dual British-Israeli national, he co-founded the independent media collective New Left Project in 2010.

Sarah Leah Whitson is the executive director of Democracy for the Arab World Now. Previously, she served as executive director of Human Rights Watch's Middle East and North Africa Division from 2004 to 2020, overseeing the work of the division in 19 countries, with staff located in ten countries. Whitson has led dozens of advocacy and investigative missions throughout the region, focusing on issues of armed conflict, accountability, legal reform, migrant workers, and human rights.

Michael Scott (moderator) is senior dean, fellow of Blackfriars Hall, Oxford, college adviser for postgraduate students, and a member of the Las Casas Institute. He also serves as senior adviser to the president of Georgetown University. Scott previously was the pro-vice-chancellor at De Montfort University and founding vice-chancellor of Wrexham Glyndwr University.

Sanford J. Ungar (moderator), president emeritus of Goucher College, is director of the Free Speech Project at Georgetown University, which documents challenges to free expression in American education, government, and civil society. Director of the Voice of America under President Bill Clinton, he was also dean of the American University School of Communication and is a former co-host of All Things Considered on NPR.