Wieseltier, literary editor of The New Republic and a prominent observer of the Middle East, said that a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an idea worth defending, for the sake of the region. The Daniel Pearl Memorial Lecture Series is hosted annually at UCLA by the Burkle Center for International Relations.
Leon Wieseltier, literary editor of The New Republic, told an audience in Korn Convocation Hall Thursday (Feb. 10) that it was the duty of intellectuals, journalists and others who comment on Israel and the Middle East "to do whatever they can to defend the viability both morally and historically of the two-state idea."
Delivering the ninth annual Daniel Pearl Memorial Lecture to 350 people, Wieseltier said mounting cynicism and despair about a comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian peace based upon partition — the unrealized but clear solution to the conflict — increase the danger for the region. Making two states the goal of negotiations, he argued, is the one way to preserve a Jewish-majority state and the only practical method for disentangling the two sides’ legitimate claims, or, in other words, “to suspend the argument about rights.”
News from Egypt and the "obvious justice" of pro-democracy protesters' demands, he said, had inspired and preoccupied all people of conscience.
The developments in Egypt prompted Wieseltier to extend his criticism of Israel's coalition government, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Guilty of "the height of irresponsibility," Netanyahu, he said, had "a whole vision of Israel security premised on an eternity of Arab authoritarianism and an eternity of Palestinian statelessness."
Where negotiations with the Palestinians over land and settlements were concerned, Wieseltier said, Netanyahu was less of an ideologue than a "status quo man."
"His vision of Israel's future, as far as I can tell, is one quiet week after another until the end of time," said Wieseltier, eliciting laughter from the audience.
Standing with Judea and Ruth Pearl (center) outside Korn Convocation Hall are, from left, actor and musician Theodore Bikel, who introduced Wieseltier; Daniel Pearl Memorial lecturer Leon Wieseltier; UCLA Chancellor Gene Block; and Burkle Center Director Kal Raustiala.
The editor lamented a breakdown in Israel's politics at a time when economic indicators are strong and culture is thriving in the country.
"Every sphere of Israeli life works brilliantly now, except the political," he said.
Daniel Pearl was a prominent Wall Street Journal reporter and the paper's South Asia bureau chief when he was kidnapped and murdered by terrorists in Pakistan in early 2002, in what Wieseltier called "one of the darkest moments in contemporary history."
Pearl's father, Judea Pearl, a computer science professor at UCLA, and his family established the Daniel Pearl Foundation to promote and continue Daniel's mission of fostering cross-cultural understanding throughout the world. Established at UCLA in 2002, the lecture was delivered last year by journalist and author Christopher Hitchens and has featured Thomas Friedman and David Brooks of The New York Times; Daniel Schorr of NPR; Ted Koppel of ABC News; and Jeff Greenfield, Larry King and Anderson Cooper of CNN.
The lecture series is sponsored by the Daniel Pearl Foundation, UCLA's Burkle Center for International Relations and the Yitzhak Rabin Hillel Center for Jewish Life at UCLA.