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By Rhonda Spivak

Alan Levy, a professional mediator, arbitrator and Associate Professor of Human Resources, Labour Relations and Dispute Resolution at Brandon University is calling on the University of Manitoba to have a Dialogue Week rather than having an Israel Apartheid Week.

In Levy’s view, “A University should strive to increase social cohesiveness within its student body and society as a whole. Learning the art of respectful discourse is part of the learning process and allows students to increase their emotional intelligence and the understanding of others. It is most unfortunate that some University leaders across Canada fail to understand this. They are not only failing their University community they are failing what the role of a University should be in the 21first century.”

In a recent interview with the Winnipeg Jewish Review, Levy, who lectures Arab and Jewish students at the world ranked International Centre of Dispute Resolution at Tel Aviv University in Israel, said “It is abominable that the University of Manitoba has allowed an event to take place for the first time called Israel Apartheid Week.  It is not an acceptable excuse to say that Israel Apartheid Week must take place as a matter of free speech.  It is an event which fuels and reinforces ideological divisions between the two sides- Israelis against Palestinians, Jews against Arabs. I believe that a university has a responsibility to take a meditative approach and engage the community in meaningful and constructive social dialogue. This takes leadership and courage.” 

Levy, who also has a Master of Laws degree from  York University  said he  has written to Dr. David Barnard, President of the University of Manitoba and asked to meet with him for the purpose of  discussing  how the university  can  foster  the occurrence of “respectful constructive social dialogue  on campus on the issues of Palestinian rights and Israel.”   Levy hopes the U of M will seriously consider ‘the wonderful contribution” they could make to meaningful discussion between the parties involved.

‘We must find innovative avenues to build  a relationship. It is not impossible. We just need to be creative and positive in our efforts,” he said.

 Levy, who  was born and raised in Winnipeg's North-end,  has more than  25 years experience in the  field of  dispute resolution and has negotiated over 130 collective agreements , without one strike.

As he said, “I would like to  create a process in Winnipeg on Middle  East issues for the two sides to begin to  dialogue in a  meaningful way. In such a process, one side will not persuade the other that they are right. But the process may be transformative and  will allow people with different opinions to learn to respect each others point of view. The change may be in the way the parties understand themselves, their conflict, their relationship, or their situation… We need to build tolerance on both sides.”
Dr. David Barnard
Dr. David Barnard, President of University of Manitoba at last year's B'nai Brith inter-faith Seder at the Shaarey Zedek Synagogue. Photo by Rhonda Spivak.

He added, “ There is no military solution to the conflict in the Middle East. The problem can only be solved by constructive dialogue. We have no choice in this matter. Too much blood has all ready been spilt.”

Levy, who was a student at Tel Aviv University, says he thinks “there will be a two state solution.  It may be a gradual process. It may take perhaps the next 20 years. I don’t know the time period but I think it is going to happen. The status quo is no solution.”

This past December, Levy lectured to Israelis and Palestinians on conflict resolution at Haifa University.  In his view, compared to the 1970’s Israel has become a much more “open and tolerant” society.

 “When I was at Haifa University recently, I saw Arab students engaged in a political protest.  I told my Israeli colleague, let them yell and scream as much as they want. Do you see any of them with guns in their hands? Israel is a democracy and it’s this tolerance that is its strength,” he said.

In Toronto, according to Levy, there is a mosque and a synagogue that share the same parking lot. “They also are involved in on going inter-faith dialogue. Just because you have differences of opinion, doesn’t mean you can’t dialogue and be friends. Learning to agree to disagree is also a learned art of  [showing] respect for the other side’’ he said.

"What we need in Winnipeg is an organization who will be kind and courageous enough to sponsor efforts in allowing meaningful discussions to start between these parties. But Winnipeg is a very Conservative conflict avoidance town.”

Below is an article by Alan Levy, prepared for the readers of the Winnipeg Jewish Review.


By Alan Levy, Special to the Winnipeg Jewish Review

Issues of diversity have taken over in Israeli society whether they were intended or not. When I was an undergraduate student at Tel Aviv University in my first political science course I wrote a paper on the possibility of Israel becoming a bi-national state (both Jewish and Palestinian).  The UK Leeds University trained Israeli born Professor (whose father-in-law was a Winnipegger) returned all the papers back to the class, except mine. I simply got a sheet of paper which stated in Hebrew “ A plus. Please come and see me.”

I later learned how the dear Professor was looking after my self interests. At the time of the mid 70’s I was a naive 21 year old immersed in politics of the day and yes I sided at the time with the left of centre political parties in Israel, particularly with the Rabin government who was in power at the time.

My Professor explained to me that if I wanted to remain in Israel as we had earlier discussed and have a successful public sector career, such arguments were not tolerated well. Although he explained that my reasoning was excellent, the practicality of the situation was that I was discussing the end of the Zionist state. Israel was not a confident player on the world stage back then as it is today; it was still an emerging garrison state. Alan, for your own good I have destroyed your paper; you got a good mark. What is the problem?. It is not a matter of the mark I explained, it’s the importance of the ideas expressed in the paper. Those ideas he told me would only result in harming my potential Israeli career he explained.

As it turned out I fell in love and my American partner did not want to live in Israel which she had done for a number of years. This is all in the way of explaining that what the shrewd professor back in the mid 70”s was protecting me from has occurred within the redefined evolving Zionist state.

Now some 36 years later I sit in a Haifa restaurant and watch an Israeli Jewish father speak to his mixed Jewish/Muslim daughter in both Hebrew and Arabic, while her mother is speaking on her cell phone in English. As the Israeli born Arab taxi driver explained to me that same day, “ Israel is my country and I am a Muslim, there is room for everybody here just like in Canada.” Yes, Israel has evolved in to a sophisticated tolerant heterogeneous diverse society.

It is tolerance of our differences that has made Canada a more interesting and better place in which to live and it is tolerance in a multidimensional fashion that will make Israel a stronger country both internally and externally. Today in Israeli streets one sees the peoples of the world as one would on the streets of Winnipeg.

Israel has not just changed, the world has also. With the globalization of our economy, we have become a smaller planet  on which to o live . These positive economic and social forces have created the dynamic social cohesiveness that is modern day Israel.

In a recent three hour research interview I did with one of Israel’s premier intellectuals, who is  regularly in the Israeli media, Professor Saporta of Tel Aviv University, he pointed out:

Israelis today are nationally committed but the extreme values  of the market economy has rid the society of the social communitarianism that use to exist.”

Today Israeli society is based more on the ideology of American individualism than the socialist Zionism of Ben Gurion. Such values are so strong here within the business community that they even supersede religious values.

Peace will not occur tomorrow, but it will occur. This is not a naïve theory that I am discussing. We will not all hold hands and sing cum by yah together. But people of diverse backgrounds have learned the ingredients of tolerance and this is half the battle. As the Ethiopian born hotel clerk recently told me when I asked if he had a good life in Israel, “[Golda Meir]  is looking down and smiling at us every day as she sees my 3 African Sabra children growing up here.”

Yes it was Golda’s generation that   made a dream of past generations operational, which today is becoming a reality for many in this complex country and region of the world.

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.