Democracy and Reconciliation: Jerusalem conference and launch of The Europe Center

Democracy and Reconciliation: Jerusalem conference and launch of The Europe Center

In the midst of the “Arab Spring”, and President Obama’s push for Palestinian-Israeli peace, The Europe Center (TEC) and the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute hosted a May 18-19 conference on “Democracy in Adversity and Diversity” in Jerusalem, the first of a sequence of conferences in TEC’s collaborative project on Reconciliation.

The conference gathered leading analysts of democratization and civil conflict, including FSI’s Francis Fukuyama, Stephen D. Krasner, and Kathryn Stoner.  During two days of conference sessions, scholars and analysts from Europe, the United States, and the Middle East compared historical and contemporary cross-border and civil society cleavages with the goal to promote informed policy.

Co-organizers Kathryn Stoner-Weiss (FSI) and Michael Karayanni (The Hebrew University) convened colleagues to address policy challenges including:

  • What has been and what should be democracy?
  • How do we translate democratic theory into practical governance?
  • How do we manage diversity in contemporary democracies?
  • What is the relationship between democracy and development?
  • How do we anticipate and respond to transitions and movements towards democracy?

Experts in liberal, secular, and fundamentalist political thought in Arab, Palestinian, Christian, Jewish, and Muslim policies proposed answers and areas for further study.  Insights included the following:

  • European and Israeli voters are increasingly electing far right nationalists, while Arab populations are calling for democracy. 
  • The deepest rifts are not between but within societies.  In Europe, Israel, and in the Hamas-Fatah Palestinian National Authority, far-right populist, ultra-orthodox, and fundamentalist parties appeal to anti-democratic world-views.  The result is hardening rhetoric that damages civil society and overwhelms the capacity for reasoned debate and resolution. Leaders compete with the minority far-right and in so doing compete for the narrow populist constituency rather than focusing on the greater interest of society.

Next steps include publications, scholar exchange, and a second international conference, “History and Memory: Global and Local Dimensions” (Stanford 2012), which aims to examine the interplay between history and memory, and how to overcome foundational narratives without requiring amnesia.