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The 2018 Telos Israel Conference
November 18–20, 2018
University of Haifa and Al-Qasemi College, Israel
Haifa, Israel

Asymmetricality, the Israeli–Palestinian Conflict, and Abrahamic Peace:
An Interdisciplinary Conference

A conference jointly hosted by the Telos-Paul Piccone Institute, the School of Political Science at the University of Haifa, and Al-Qasemi College, Israel. Co-organized by Ayman Agbaria, Aryeh Botwinick, Annabel Herzog, and Wayne Hudson.

Conference Description

The aim of this conference is to develop common approaches among Jews, Christians, and Muslims to foster pluralist readings of the scriptures and other religious texts. We believe that rigid fundamentalist readings and their translation into action is deleterious in terms of working toward a peaceful resolution of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict and of other domestic and international political conflicts that are equally infused by fanatic religious rhetoric and practice.

There is a special urgency attached to having a conference with this theme because American foreign policy toward Israel and the Palestinian Authority has recently substantially magnified the asymmetry between the parties to the conflict at the expense of Palestinians and moderate Jewish voices in Israel. Wide sections of American evangelicalism support the Israeli policy of infringement upon territory that is claimed to be necessary for the formation of a Palestinian state. The de facto annexation pursued by Israeli governments is rendered possible by the messianic beliefs shared by Israeli settlers and their sympathizers in Israeli rightist parties and in the Jewish and Christian worlds. More recently, political and military developments currently taking place at the Gaza/Israel border raise theoretical and practical questions about perceptions and practices of violence, dominance, militarism, colonialism, protest, and resistance on both sides of the border. In this regard, the conference is an attempt to explore how aspects of religion shape and are reshaped by these perceptions and practices.

Why is it important to bring religion into the political discourse surrounding the Israeli–Palestinian conflict? We believe that on both sides, political arguments about human and collective rights, borders and sovereignty, nationalism and citizenship, as well as peace and reconciliation are framed and rendered in religious language and with strong reference to transcendental ideas, and to rigid canonical readings. Specifically, we believe that religious fundamentalism has been integral to achieving the Israeli government's policies. Unflinchingly, the expansion of the settlements is promoted with religious ideological zeal. Palestinian resistance attempts are also often informed by references to Islamic jurisprudence and theology. Christian forces are involved in the conflict both in the form of American evangelical support for Israel and in the global Christian interests in the city of Jerusalem, and not least in the difficult situation of Christian Palestinians.

In terms of Jewish-Muslim relations, it is worth noting that the God that the Muslims worship replicates in most key respects the God that the Jews affirm—the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The very last Sura of the Qu'ran could be recited with fervor by Jews: "Sincere Religion In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate Say: 'He is God, One, God, the Everlasting Refuge, who has not begotten, and has not been begotten, and equal to Him is not any one.'" The austerely, radically one monotheistic God is beyond human comprehension and therefore also beyond the range of intelligible human statement. God constitutes the ultimately defiant human metaphor that on theological grounds can never be fully decoded.

Jews and Muslims pray to a commonly situated asymmetrical God. His totally exalted, unequal status to human beings authenticates His identity as God. The theorizing of God in classic Jewish and Islamic religious texts eventuates in a very sharp paradox. God who is the epitome of irrecoverable, unbridgeable distance is also the greatest source of succor and comfort in the religious person's life. How is the transition between God's overwhelming absence and His overwhelming nearness to be negotiated? How can the God who is utterly beyond us be the same God with whom we develop an intimate emotional bond? How can God who is the ultimate embodiment of Otherness be the source and foundation of the Same?

It is at this juncture that the theological begins dramatically to cede space to the political. The central symbol of the religious life presupposes God's absence, and the actual practice of the religious life assumes His presence. If God were palpably in the world, we wouldn't need religion. We would just relate to Him as we found Him. Religion in many significant respects constitutes a gigantic placeholder for the absent God. How do we theorize and internalize the placeholder status of God in monotheistic religion?

If we are fundamentalists, we assign hegemonic status to one or several traditions of Scriptural interpretation and act in the present as if God were already among us. Filtered through the prism of our favored interpretive canons, we know exactly how to respond to every crisis and disappointment that confronts us. On the other hand, if we are more skeptical, we do not lose track of the rational limitations that govern our lives in the present, and we notice that religion is in the same arena as its secular metaphysical competitors. None of them constitutes a pathway to certainty. Religion involves as much risk—and presupposes to the same degree the assumption of personal responsibility—as the worldviews that question its very organizing principles. In Rav Nachman of Bratslav's famous words, "The whole world [needs to be seen as] a very narrow bridge."

One of the keys to exploring possibilities for political solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is to understand theological debates and to learn how to intervene in them. This conference is primarily focused on examining the critical junctures at which religion and politics intersect—and interact. The following is a partial list of themes and topics that fall within the purview of the conference.The list is intended to be suggestive, rather than exhaustive.

  • How can religion, religiosity, and religification be enacted, negotiated, and reworked in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict so as to be more conducive toward peace?
  • What are the prospects of Israel developing into a democratic binational state? Is "parity of esteem" an attainable goal in Israeli-Palestinian relations?
  • Why and how have negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians led to an entrenchment and expansion of settlements?
  • How can a Middle East peace be imagined, let alone realized? What is the role of religious imagery in peace-building processes?
  • How can religion be understood so that it becomes a key promotional factor in achieving peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? How can educational systems support peace-building efforts through religious and spiritual teachings?
  • How is religion interwoven in domestic Israeli and Palestinian politics?
  • Crisis management in the occupied territories from the perspective of international law. What impact would Mishpat Ivri have on altering the content and direction of Israeli policy in the settlements?
  • To what extent is Israel’s Palestinian policy a function of expanding and rigidifying class inequalities prevalent within Israel itself?
  • On what levels of policymaking can the fundamental inequalities persisting between the Israeli and Palestinian populations be addressed?
  • How is the religious right used by the Israeli government to support its expansionist territorial policies?
  • Israel’s obligations toward Gaza in terms of international law vs. the Israeli government’s self-perception of what its commitments are and how these commitments get translated into strategies and policies in the present crisis
  • Is “theological disarmament” (in Alick Isaacs’s phrase) a viable strategy for Judaism and for Islam?
  • Is religion merely a variety of the political? Can religion be theorized as constituting an autonomous field of its own?
  • Was monotheism at its inception simply a novel approach for achieving human liberation and secularization?
  • Islamic fundamentalism and revisionist readings of the texts and history of Islam
  • Monotheism and liberalism: Continuities and contrasts
  • Is the furtherance and maintenance of life the key value of monotheistic religion?
  • What role do notions of forgiveness, reconciliation, sacrifice—and self-sacrifice—play in monotheistic religion?
  • What are the metaphysical routes that link God to territoriality—infinite time to finite space? What role do media and the arts play in revolutionizing our understanding of religion?

Confirmed Speakers

Ayman Agbaria
David Barak-Gorodetsky
Karma Ben-Johanan
Omri Boehm
Mylène Botbol Baum
Aryeh Botwinick
Meir Buzaglo
Eyal Chowers
Cedric Cohen-Skalli
Mariah Farah
Menachem Fisch
Zeev Harvey
Areen Hawari
Yotam Hotam
Wayne Hudson
Alick Isaacs
Silvana Kandel Lamdan

Elad Lapidot
Menachem Kellner
Moshe Lavee
Yitzhak Melamed
Haneen Mgdalah
Dana Neacsu
David Ohana
Ranen Omer-Sherman
Libera Pisana
Sobhi Rayan
Shlomo Dov Rosen
Najwan Saada
Ofer Salzberg
Jon Simons
Daniel Statman
Lilian Türck
Shira Wolosky

Abstract Submissions

Note: The deadline for abstract submissions has passed. If you have any questions about the conference, please contact us at

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