The Trap of Palestinian Participation

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An open letter considers the impossible choice facing Palestinians: Participate as a token in conversations premised on their oppression, or be branded rejectionists.

By Tareq Baconi | Jewish Currents | Feb 10, 2023

To be clear, I am not rejecting discussion in itself; rather, I am rejecting the terms of debate

Dear Ambassador David M. Satterfield,

I’ve been reflecting on your recent invitation to participate in the “Israel at 75” conference and accompanying “celebratory dinner” to be held at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy in April, which I declined last month. I must confess that I was initially perplexed by the offer. I would have assumed that my public statements and writings on the State of Israel would have precluded me from consideration for an event of this kind. Then I thought that my position might be precisely the reason I was invited—that the offer constituted a genuine effort to engage with my analyses. But once I examined the invitation and proposed agenda more closely, I knew I had to reject it. The same reasons that informed my decision also compelled me to compose this open letter: to voice my concerns publicly and explain not only why I declined, but how this entire performance of perfunctory offers and obligatory refusals serves to further undermine Palestinian voices.

To begin with, to reach out to a Palestinian with an invitation suggesting that Israel at any age is something to “celebrate”—as the framing of the formal meal following the conference casually suggests—is at least naively inconsiderate if not egregiously insulting. Given your background and expertise as one of the most celebrated Middle East experts in the State Department, I would struggle to accept that this was an error born of ignorance. I can only assume that as far as the Baker Institute is concerned, the crimes against my family and my people over the past eight decades are not worthy of consideration—and certainly not offensive enough to dim the lights of this celebration.

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