On the other side of the echo chamber, a quiet conversation about war and race | ET REALITY


The women agreed to meet at a school Oliver founded three years ago.

When the pandemic hit, Oliver was frustrated to see wealthy, mostly white parents paying teachers for private learning “modules,” exacerbating inequalities. In the fall of 2020, she opened a small “holistic, anti-racist and bilingual” school in a neighborhood that once served as a redline for black and white residents.

After a tour of the four-room school, the women sat in an office Oliver rents at a neighboring church. (When Ms. Oliver was asked about her religion, she described herself as secular.) They sat across from each other on leatherette chairs, knees almost touching. A large piece of paper taped to the wall outlined Mrs. Oliver’s strategies and plans for school. On the mantelpiece were framed photographs of young black women absorbed in their studies.

Neither came with an organized set of questions, but each had objectives. Minkin said he partly wanted Oliver to understand the rationale for the existence of the State of Israel and recognize the role of anti-Semitism. Ms. Oliver focused on U.S. support for Israeli government policies and how her views on racism and oppression in the United States relate to Palestinians.

“I have a very strong affiliation with marginalized people: brown people, displaced people, refugees, black people,” Ms. Oliver recalled saying at the beginning of the conversation. “We typically listen to the perspective of those in power, and our school is about amplifying the voices of the disenfranchised.”

Ms. Oliver then asked Ms. Minkin about “settler colonialism” and Palestinians forced from their homes after the creation of the State of Israel. She recalled expressing disbelief that the displacement “was okay with the Jewish people.”

“How could people accept that and how could that be fair?” She wondered.

Ms. Minkin thought that question was an oversimplification. Jews also have historical ties to the land, she said, describing the region as having “two indigenous peoples,” the Arabs and the Jews. She spoke of decades of violent attacks against Jews in Israel.

“We have to recognize that the policies that have been applied until now have failed,” he recalled saying, expressing hope that both groups would live in peace. “I hope that maybe at the end of this, there will be some kind of major policy opened up by the people who are supposed to run us.”

But why, Oliver asked, don’t the Israelis simply allow Palestinians to leave Gaza and the West Bank to live alongside them?

Minkin, remembering decades of failed peace talks, thought that idea unlikely. “Do you really think they want to live in peace in Israel?” he recalled responding.

Amid all the suffering in Gaza, Mrs Oliver said, why wouldn’t they?

Minkin tried to steer the conversation away from political history. She is not an apologist for the current right-wing government and she has always supported a two-state solution, she said.

But I wanted Mrs. Oliver to understand what it felt like to be Jewish at that time. After centuries of anti-Semitism, many Jews like her feel existentially worried, fearful that the world could turn against them at any moment. The way Oliver described the Hamas attack struck Minkin as a justification for the murder of Jews.

“It was a massacre, and it’s painful to see someone disparage it,” Minkin recalled saying, noting the deep connections between American Jews and Israel. “We are all related to Israel in some way, in the first or second degree. We are one people and we are suffering.”

Minkin did not mention his own experience in Israel. She lived in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv for years when she was 20, when bus lines were bombed and cafes attacked. She attended the rally where Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli prime minister who led peace negotiations with the Palestinians and shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994, was assassinated by an Israeli extremist. Israel, Minkin later thought, is a central part of her identity, a place that shaped her, a Jewish homeland to which she frequently returns.

Both women left things unsaid.

Ms. Oliver did not discuss the personal history that influenced her views. Her brother, Morgan, served for years in the Army in Afghanistan and struggled with post-traumatic stress before committing suicide in 2017. She created the Morgan Oliver School to help honor him. The people who suffer most in wars, Oliver later said, are the poor and the powerless: the soldiers who volunteer and the civilians who are considered collateral damage.

While searching for ways to describe his own views, Minkin attempted to emphasize his empathy for the Palestinians. She noted that both sisters were experts on the Middle East and had close relationships with Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.

Mrs. Oliver nodded, but privately drew back. Her comment reminded him of hearing white people say they have a black friend. “That doesn’t mean you’re oppressed in any way,” she thought.

Both women agreed that the conversation became more tense when it turned to the complexities of race in America.

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