From March 3-11, OneVoice Israel regional coordinator and activist Tom Bar-Gal took part in the International Engagement Program's Washington, D.C. tour. Tom had the opportunity to speak to political and religious communities during his stay and told us about his experience.
OneVoice: What was it like going on your first IEP tour?
Tom: I was expecting it to be a more general discussion with a more general audience and a lot more opposition than I actually faced. I was waiting for someone to attack me for my views, but everyone we met was very supportive and engaged. There was hardly ever any disagreement to the two-state solution. It’s interesting, the only people who tried to challenge the two-state solution also wanted to regain their own faith in it and the peace process. I can see that people feel exhausted here in America – they only see bad things on the news, problems, and difficulties. This is what’s mainly covered. When they see activists like me, they see a representative of the future. The change will have an impact. I would definitely go on a tour again.
OneVoice: As an Israeli, why do you think it was important to speak to the Washington, D.C. community at this moment in time?
Tom: The time is now, and the two-state solution should be a priority for Obama. We can’t be sure what the future of American leadership has in store. Obama might not be motivated to make a move now because he has other things on his mind, like the budget. However, he can play a role in changing the reality on the ground by supporting the grassroots work that we are doing. Issuing statements that acknowledge our work will help to regain the hope of restarting negotiations. This is crucial.
It’s also important to understand the gap in public opinion and the makeup of the Knesset. The Knesset does not represent what the public thinks and wants on the issue of the two-state solution. It represents trends of fear and mistrust, not ideals and aspirations. It’s important that the American public and policymakers have faith that the Israeli public will support a solution when it comes.
OneVoice: What were the most common questions you received? Any difficult or challenging questions?
Tom: I was asked how the changes in the region affect our work, what I think about the new government, how supportive will it be toward the two-state solution. I was also asked about importance of the holy sites to the Jewish people, and about Jerusalem and how can we split something that is important for both religions.
My answer to the holy sites question was that we advocate for freedom of access and worship for all faiths, and there will be no solution if this won’t be a part of it. On Jerusalem, I talked about the difference between Jerusalem in the mind of public (a romanticized vision), the reality of what Jerusalem actually is, and what it should be: shared, with West Jerusalem the capital of Israel and East Jerusalem the capital of Palestine. It’s separating the myth from reality. The responses were very widely accepted and appreciated.
OneVoice: Did you learn anything from the American audiences you spoke to that you didn’t know before?
Tom: I learned that Americans are supportive of the two-state solution, but there isn’t a lot of awareness of the grassroots work that is going on and the public opinion in Israel. It seems Americans rely too much on just the media as their main source, even though they know media doesn’t represent all of reality. With this in mind, they are taking the opportunity to learn more by coming to our events.