Ori Nir grew up in Israel, but now lives in the United States. He wrote for Israeli newspaper Haaretz, but is now the spokesman for Americans for Peace Now. When it comes to understanding the U.S.-Israeli relationship, views don’t come more two-sided than Nir’s.
And on May 12, Nir brought his globe-trotting perspective to Pittsburgh with a talk called “East Jerusalem and the Settlements: Myths and Facts,” given at Temple Sinai and sponsored by the local J Street chapter.
In an interview prior to his visit, Nir said his talk wouldn’t address lies about Israel, per se, as much as misconceptions that American Jews hold toward aspects of the country, namely the nature of Jerusalem in the two-state negotiation process.
“Most American Jews see Jerusalem as Eli Wiesel sees it,” said Nir, referencing Wiesel’s “Jerusalem Above Politics” advertisement from The Washington Post last month. “They look at it as this celestial city, as a concept, a holy town. It is those things, but they neglect to look at terrestrial Jerusalem — what’s on the ground and the map.”
Nir’s talk took place on Yom Yerushalayim, or Jerusalem Day, which celebrates Jerusalem’s reunification of 1967. The visit was Nir’s second in Pittsburgh; he first arrived “in the early ’90s when the Haaretz foreign press center organized a visit to show how Pittsburgh was recovering from losing the steel industry.”
As spokesman for Americans for Peace Now, Nir said he can take his vast knowledge of Israeli national affairs and “deal with it in a different fashion.”
“I wanted to be closer [to the IsraeliPalestinian conflict], to feel I had more of an impact. I really thought that I could have a different type of influence, and I do.”
Members of J Street Pittsburgh viewed Nir as a good candidate to “dispel myths from facts about Jerusalem,” said J Street’s Naftali Kaminsky.
Jerusalem has been a hotter topic than usual for the past two months, stemming from the March 9 announcement — on the day of Vice President Joe Biden’s Israel visit — that Israel would begin constructing new housing units in East Jerusalem. The move pushed the Obama administration to speak out against Israel’s decision, often with a derisive tone.
“The timing element [of the announcement] was big,” said Nir. “The U.S. has been pleading with Israel to take measures that would create better atmosphere, better trust, in order to allow the U.S. to play the role it needs to play: to advance what is a key, maybe supreme, Israeli national interest — peace with its Arab neighbors.
“The conscious choice to leave Jerusalem out of negotiations with the expectation that the conflict will be resolved is a huge misunderstanding. It’s simply not going to happen,” said Nir. “Jerusalem is the volcanic core of the conflict, both territorially and emotionally. In the minds of Palestinians, Jerusalem is an integral part of the West Bank. Without finding a solution to that, you can’t draw a future border.”
So what does all this have to do with American Jews? It’s simply important for any Jew to understand Jerusalem’s reality to better grasp the complications of the conflict.
“A lot of what I’ll try to do is simply educate,” said Nir. “I’ll say what things look like, how the situation on the ground is hindering the possibility and prospects of a two-state solution. What people get wrong is mainly attitudinal, the perception that Jerusalem is not more than the holy places.”
(Justin Jacobs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)