Harvard law professor visits UMass, discusses Israeli-Palestinian conflict

By Rhiannon Snide

Collegian File Photo
(Collegian File Photo)

The University of Massachusetts’ Judaic and Near Eastern Studies department and College of Humanities and Fine Arts welcomed author Noah Feldman and Felix Frankfurter, professor of law at Harvard Law School, for a discussion titled “Violence, Politics and Religion: Can Israel Remain Jewish and Democratic?” on Wednesday at Goodell Hall.

An audience of over 50 students and community members gathered for the event, which focused on solutions for democracy in the Middle East, specifically in respect to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“A lot of people think they know what the morally correct answer is,” Feldman said, “but that is radically different from knowing an answer that will satisfy you morally, while simultaneously working in practice.”

Feldman gave two main proposals to developing democracy in Israel that he concluded as both unlikely, but not impossible. These proposals included both a one and two state solution.

The one state solution Feldman offered varied depending on the ideals of the state.  Within Palestine an egalitarian secular democracy was envisioned, whereas Israel envisioned a democracy that would be fixed to remain nationally Jewish.

Feldman believed these conflicting views of democracy inhibit the creation of a singular state between Israel and Palestine.

“I don’t think it would be very easy to pull off, but do I think it is impossible? No,” Feldman stated.

In terms of the two state solution Feldman explained that simply separating the two states would not bring a solution of democracy in Israel.

“There would still be the question of the status of minorities, particularly Jewish, living in Palestine,” said Feldman, “never the less the violence would slowly begin to seep back out of the issue.”

This lecture was just one of the annual lectures sponsored by the Robert and Pamela Jacobs Lecture Series in Jewish Culture.  According to a University press release, “The Robert and Pamela Jacobs Lecture Series in Jewish Culture provides public lectures by leading figures in contemporary Jewish thought, education, culture or politics. Each lecture may explore a specific theme, such as American Jewish history, Jewish art, the Holocaust or religious thought.”

“It’s an important form of outreach for the department.  A number of departments have these types of lecture series. It’s a great way of doing intellectual and cultural outreach,” said Julie Hayes, dean of the College Humanities and Fine Arts.

Jay Berkovitz, professor of Judaic and Near Eastern Studies and director of the Center for Jewish Studies at UMass, emphasized the importance of the event, saying the lecture series exposes students and the community to a world of Judaic related ideas.

“I care about the situation between both nations (Israel and Palestine) so much,” stated Sahar Khan, a freshman studying legal studies and journalism at UMass, “Thinking about the conflict between the nations makes me really upset, so I was really happy to hear professor Feldman’s views on it.”

Rhiannon Snide can be reached at [email protected]