Marc Gopin recently shared strategies for peace-making, from his career in global conflict resolution
This story originally appeared in Yeshiva University News, April 2, 2009.
Marc Gopin has made a career out of making peace. A musmakh [rabbinical graduate] of Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, Gopin is the James H. Laue Professor of Religion, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution and director of the Center on Religion, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution at George Mason University’s Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution. He spoke to more than 50 undergraduates in Koch Auditorium on the Beren Campus about peace processes in the Middle East on March 18.
The event was sponsored by the Social Justice Society, the J. Dunner Political Society, TAC, SOY, SCWSC and the Israel Club.
Gopin began his talk, entitled “From Washington Heights to Damascus: Evolution of a YU Alumnus’ Peace-Building Efforts,” by describing the trajectory of his career path.
His close relationship with his mentor, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, inspired him to pursue a career in mediation and conflict analysis. “The Rav was embedded in global consciousness and listened to the news every hour,” Gopin recalled.
Throughout his career, Gopin developed peace-making strategies for complex conflicts in which religion and culture play a role. His work focuses on countries in the Middle East including Turkey, Syria and Israel.
For Gopin, there were “deeper things about peace-making than political posture.” He discovered that “ways people come to kill—or conversely, reconcile—are far more attributable to religious and ethical categories than expected.”
His most effective strategy was to establish a close partnership with a member of the negotiating party. “How to treat other people is the basis of negotiation,” he said. “There needs to be a sense that the room is governed by love, where everyone has the chance to speak and be heard.”
Gopin said he believed it is necessary to study the prayers, rituals and texts of the particular community he is working with in order to better connect to his constituency.
Hands immediately shot up when Gopin opened the floor for questions. Students asked about strategies employed to deal with irrational peacemakers, ways for undergraduates to get involved in these peace-making efforts, and Gopin’s experiences moderating in Arab countries.
“The best peace-makers are the least rational,” Gopin said. “These people work to evoke passion and break impasses of people who hate each other.”
He urged the students to serve as conduits for peace. “Show enough respect to your fellow human to make changes one person at a time,” was his advice. He encouraged students to join networks of people with different backgrounds but similar values and to establish close relationships with them.
“The YU student body, on the whole, feels passionately about Israel and its wellbeing,” said Shani Mintz, Judaic studies major and organizer of the event.
“However, because of that love for Israel, we may, at times, only see one side of the picture. My goal for the program was for students to think more critically about the conflict in the Middle East and what, if anything, they could do to help bring about a peaceful resolution,” she added.
Max Saltzman, president of the Israel Club on the Wilf Campus, made a point of emphasizing the event’s apolitical nature. “While the Israel Club does not endorse the speaker’s view on the Middle East, we believe there is value in these conversations,” Saltzman said.
“The only way for us as a student body and as individuals to develop sophisticated opinions about the current conflict in the Middle East is to have a broad understanding of the different sides.”