WATCH: Why does a Palestinian speak at a J Street conference?

A few weeks ago, I was asked to speak at J Street’s Making History conference. The first panel they wanted me to join was about the Palestinian perspective. I was also asked to moderate a session on Palestinian citizens of Israel. I had no hesitation when I accepted both requests. I was happy that a large Jewish crowd was interested to learn about the Palestinian perspective and to pay attention to the Palestinians citizens of Israel.

American Jews hear much about Palestinians but many have not had the chance to meet them directly and ask about their views, beliefs and passions. These panels are important if we are to correct stereotypes about the Palestinian community. Even lefty Jews must not just speak about us or “learn” about us, but speak directly with us and learn about our lives from us.

Therefore, it is essential for more Palestinians to come to these kinds of events. I know that some Palestinians criticized us for speaking at J Street. However, shifting public opinion and spreading awareness about the Palestinian cause will not happen without engaging Jewish and Christian communities.

I have attended the J Street conferences for the past 3 years and have met many Jewish, Arab and international activists who work tirelessly to end the occupation. I am not always in agreement with J Street. I spoke at the panel of my disappointment at J Street’s decision not to support the September 2011 Palestinian statehood bid at the UN. Last year, I wrote about feeling that J Street wasn’t open to hearing other voices, and too focused on the two-state solution. However, I was encouraged to see some changes this year.  J Street was willing to invite speakers who do not support the two-state solution or didn’t fit neatly within their political views. For an organization that supports an open conversation within the Jewish community, it is vital that they don’t silence those who disagree with them.

J Street’s efforts are remarkable, but it is organization swimming against the current. The two-state solution is losing momentum on every side. Many Israelis see no harm in the current status quo. Palestinians are shifting toward the one-state solution and America has not been leading the peace process for over a decade. The challenges before J Street and two-state solution supporters are monumental.