You cannot make peace without knowing the facts, says River Edge resident Alain Sanders, associate professor of political science at St. Peter’s College, the Jesuit institution with campuses in Jersey City and Englewood Cliffs.
“The first step is understanding what’s going on. It has to be built on facts,” said Sanders, who will present “Hope for Peace in the Middle East: Understanding Israel” at Temple Israel and Jewish Community Center in Ridgewood on Oct. 25.
“The narrative played out in the media and in public discourse is heavily skewed and anti-Israel,” he said. “It’s important that the facts be on the table and the narrative be straightened out.”
A longtime writer for TIME Magazine before taking up his position at the college, Sanders said the presentation, sponsored by the shul’s Israel Action Committee, was designed “to set the record straight.”
First produced about four years ago under the aegis of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey’s Jewish Community Relations Commission, the piece was “reconfigured” two years ago, said JCRC director Joy Kurland.
The new piece includes interviews with legislators such as Valerie Huttle, Gordon Johnson, and Gerald Cardinale; Darfur activist and former slave Simon Deng; Capt. Steve Babiak of the Bergen County Police Department; and a member of the local Muslim community
“We knew they had gone to Israel and had first-hand exposure, and that they would say favorable things based on their experience and political understanding,” said Sanders, noting that the program does two things. “It aims to give audiences, both Jewish and non-Jewish, an understanding of Israel – the country, the people, its accomplishments; and it provides an overview of the Middle East conflict.”
Sanders helped write the script for the narrative. He said he worked closely with Fort Lee resident Martha Cohen, then chair of the JCRC’s Israel and world affairs committee, to craft the presentation. Credit for the final product, he said, belonged to an “informal” group of program writers, including both volunteers and federation staff.
“People don’t really understand the history and parameters of the conflict,” he said. Explaining that the “negativism” of the Arab position toward Israel transcends territorial issues and enters “the existential realm,” he said that many critics oppose not Israeli policies, but Israel itself.
The program, he said, was originally designed for non-Jewish audiences, and “is a summary of the political situation, giving a vision of what Israel is like as a country, as a democracy, culturally vibrant, whose civilization extends beyond the political issues of the day. They’re real people; it’s real culture.”
Over the past several years, the presentation has been shown to both Jewish and non-Jewish groups.
While the creators’ primary goal was to reach non-Jews for whom Israel is not a primary concern and who get their information from the general mass media, the committee soon realized the program would be valuable for Jewish audiences, as well.
“Not all Jews know the basics,” said Sanders. “In many parts of the media, the Arab story is considered the baseline and it is assumed that our side is the ‘spin.’ Whatever you believe, you need to give the other side a fair hearing. There are always at least two viewpoints.”
Sanders said the program has been designed not just to inform, but to strengthen Israel advocacy. In addition, he hopes viewers will suggest other venues in which to show the piece. He pointed out that a question-and-answer period will follow the Temple Israel presentation and that, during this segment, there will be an opportunity to discuss “news.”
Kurland said she has reached out to members of JCRC’s Interfaith Dialog Center to create a list of sites at which to present the program. She pointed out that after unveiling the edited piece last year before 100 federations members, Sanders took on the job of training 15 presenters.
The Ridgewood presentation will take place at 8 p.m. For further information, call (201) 444-9320 or visit www.synagogue.org.