Kenneth Stern knows the Israel-Palestinian conflict well

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One of the most divisive and toxic issues on American campuses is the conflict over Israel and Palestine. Some pro-Palestine students call supporters of Israel’s right to exist racist, and disrupt their events. Some pro-Israel students label pro-Palestine students terrorists, and call the Jews among them traitors. Lawsuits are filed. Legislation is proposed. Faculty members are blacklisted and receive death threats. Academic freedom is compromised and the entire academic enterprise is threatened.

How did we get here, and what can be done?

On the evening of Oct. 14, Kenneth S. Stern will present, on Zoom, his study of this conflict. Stern, the director of the Bard Center for the Study of Hate, is the author of “The Conflict Over the Conflict: The Israel/Palestine Campus Debate,” which chronicles what has been happening on campuses across the continent.

In his passionate book, Stern examines attempts from each side to censor the other at a time when some say that students are being quarantined from difficult ideas, rather than being challenged to wrestle with them. He frames his examination on the theory that our ability to think rationally is inhibited when our identity is fiercely connected to a perceived social injustice.

According to Stern, college campuses are the best places to probe this conflict and our intense views about it. In his Zoom presentation, he will discuss the conflict itself and suggest ways to navigate the issue on campuses.

Stern is an attorney and award-winning author. For 25 years, he was the American Jewish Committee’s expert on anti-Semitism, and he was also the lead drafter of the “Working Definition of Anti-Semitism.” He has argued before the U.S. Supreme Court and testified before Congress, and is a frequent guest on television and radio. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today and The Forward.

Brandeis University Prof. Jonathan D. Sarna writes, “People on both sides of the Israel-Palestine campus debate will disagree with parts of [Stern’s] book, but everyone interested in the concepts of academic freedom and free speech should read it. A probing, provocative, and informative guide to clear thinking about divisive issues in our time.” 

The presentation will take place on Zoom. Realizing this, Stern was quoted in The Forward as saying, “I have mixed feelings about virtual book talks. I enjoy speaking in front of live audiences about topics that invoke curiosity and passion. My favorite part is the Q-and-A, especially when someone strongly disagrees with me. It’s an opportunity to examine their premises and my own, and bring the audience along to see an issue more deeply and from multiple perspectives.”

Stern believes that virtual presentations allow more time for Q-and-A. There will be plenty of time on Oct. 14 for questions and answers following his presentation.

To RSVP and receive a link to the Zoom, please visit jewishallianceri.org/stern. The program will take place Wednesday, Oct. 14, at 7 p.m.  Stern’s book, “The Conflict Over the Conflict,” is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and the University of Toronto Press.

This free presentation is part of the monthly Israeli Culture Series, held on the second Wednesday of each month, and Behind the Book: A Visiting Author Series. The event is made possible by a partnership with the Jewish Book Council. For more information, contact Or Cohen at ocohen@jewishallianceri.org or 401-864-3786.

LARRY KATZ (lkatz@jewishallianceri.org) is the director of Jewish Life and Learning at the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island.