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Guidelines for Critical Dialogue between Worldviews

As exemplified by the need for non-antisemitic dialogue with Israelis? (Part #1)


Published in abridged form in Journal of Futures Studies: epistemology, methods, applied and alternative futures, 11, 2, November 2006, pp. 137-154


Introduction
Challenge of dialogue with an alternative worldview
Isomorphs of the Israeli case: challenging parallels and distinctions
Sources of the sense of "chosenness"
Characteristics of dialogue with "the chosen"
Consequences of "inappropriate" dialogue
Degrees of isomorphism, equivalence or analogy
Exemplary test cases: symbols vs trivia?
Mapping the terrain of hypersensitive dialogue
Conclusion
References

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Introduction

Critical comments on the policies of Israel in its handling of the crisis with Hizbollah (July-August 2006) [more], or more generally with Palestinians, have evoked accusations of "anti-semitism". Both the criticism and the accusations have been characteristic of interaction with Israelis over decades -- and, more generally, over centuries with regard to Jews. Considerable effort has gone into recognizing what constitutes the "anti-semitic" characteristics of such criticism. Although references are occasionally made to "non-anti-semitism", and the need to demonstrate it, it is not clear that any effort has been devoted to clarifying what constitutes "non-anti-semitic" dialogue that is critical of Israel or of positions favoured by Jews in particular.

The situation with respect to Israel may usefully be considered as exemplifying a challenge with respect to the proponents of any worldview, whether those of other religions (especially including Islam and Christianity), schools of thought, academic disciplines, etc. In effect the situation with respect to Israel is considered here as isomorphic with other psychosocial conditions. These have the potential to offer more general learnings, as well as clues to how the challenge can be more elegantly and fruitfully handled.

What follows is an effort to determine whether there are any guidelines for critical dialogue with proponents of a worldview strongly held, possibly so strongly as to be intimately associated with the very identity of the proponents. Preferably the guidelines should be offered by those holding the worldview, rather than by those critical of its consequences -- and seeking an appropriate window of opportunity through which to dialogue. If there is any implication that one may occasionally be "wrong", at least from some other perspective, it is useful to clarify the conditions under which others may point this out.

This exercise is not concerned with the much-explored question of "tolerance" -- namely tolerating an alternative worldview and its associated practices -- rather it is concerned with the guidelines for engaging critically with such a worldview where it is experienced as problematic. The practice of tolerance is commonly understood to be one which deliberately abstains from critical feedback -- that may in fact be vital to the sustainability of any relationship. Cris Cullinan (Vision, Privilege, and the Limits of Tolerance, 1999) makes the point:

As long as some of us receive automatic presumptions of innocence, worthiness and competence and yet refuse to hear and understand that others do not share these benefits, we can do little to create a respectful and inclusive environment. This is not necessarily because we do not want to help create this kind of environment.

cessarily because we do not want to help create this kind of environment.


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