Quaker Author’s Talk on Israel–Palestine Leads to Interfaith Dialogue

Steve Chase presenting a talk on Israel–Palestine at the Montclair Public Library in New Jersey on November 12, 2023. Image courtesy of Steve Chase.

Quaker author Steve Chase, a member of Friends Meeting of Washington (D.C.), offered a talk about nonviolence and a just peace in Israel–Palestine on November 12 at the Montclair Public Library in northern New Jersey. Chase shared observations from a three-week Quaker-sponsored trip to the region that took place in June 2023. The journey included a visit to Ramallah Friends School in the West Bank and a stop at an intentional peace village of 150 families populated by 50 percent Jewish Israelis and 50 percent Palestinian Israelis. During the trip an Israeli Special Forces reservist took Chase and others to see a bomb shelter in a children’s home.

Chase called for an immediate ceasefire in the current war between Hamas and Israeli Defense Forces, advocated for the release of Israeli hostages, and urged humanitarian aid for civilians in Gaza. He also promoted an end to Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank and opposed apartheid against Palestinians.

Initially 165 people came to the event but 15 had to leave because the fire code limited occupants to 150, according to Chase. Friends Journal viewed a video recording that includes the hour-long presentation provided by Chase. At one point, audience members interrupted the talk to express that Chase’s comments made them feel unsafe and some accused him of propagating hate speech.

At the end of the question-and-answer session that followed the presentation, police officers escorted Chase and his Quaker ally out of the building, according to Chase. Demonstrators outside the building objected to the talk.

Friends Journal talked with a rabbi who attended the presentation and has subsequently continued a dialogue with Chase.

“I think he was given a certain narrative. I think there is more to the story,” said Rabbi Yoni Glatt of Chase’s presentation.

Glatt serves as a board member of Congregation Ohr Torah in West Orange, N.J., and as a guest lecturer for high school students at Temple B’nai Or in Morristown, N.J. Glatt lost two relatives in two separate terrorist attacks that preceded Hamas’ recent killings. He felt alarmed when Chase mentioned having met with the parents of a Palestinian teen named Ahed Tamimi. Chase stated that the young woman repeatedly slapped an Israeli soldier after he had shot her cousin in the head. The woman served an eight-month prison term for assaulting the soldier, who was never prosecuted for the shooting, according to Chase.

NBC News reports that Ahed Tamimi’s parents are related to Ahlam Ahmad Al-Tamimi, a Jordanian journalist who admitted to and was later convicted by an Israeli court of participating in a 2001 bombing at a Sbarro pizza restaurant in Jerusalem which killed 16 people and injured about 122. During the question-and-answer session that followed Chase’s talk, Glatt asked whether Ahlam was present at the meeting and if the Tamimi family members condemned her actions involving the 2001 bombing. Chase, who had been unaware of the bombing, could not address Glatt’s concern at that moment and invited Glatt to contact him about it later; they have since developed a correspondence. Chase stated that he did not know whether Ahed Tamimi’s parents are related to Ahlam Ahmad Al-Tamimi. He described a potential family connection between the two women as irrelevant to his presentation.

At Chase’s suggestion, Glatt met for dialogue with the Northern New Jersey leadership of Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), an organization that cosponsored Chase’s talk. Other cosponsors included Pax Christi, Veterans for Peace, NJ Friends Committee on National Legislation Advocacy Team, Democratic Socialists of America, and American Muslims for Palestine.

JVP argues that Zionism has led to apartheid which has harmed both Palestinians and Israelis. The organization seeks to draw on anti-Zionist views historically held by Jews, according to its website.

Glatt noted that every religious service he attends refers to a Jewish homeland in Israel. Ninety percent of Old Testament scriptures either occur in Israel or are about a return to Israel. Glatt sees Zionism as inextricably entwined with Jewish identity.

In his talk, Chase described his youthful commitment to Zionism and discussed how it evolved into the belief that the political structure in Israel–Palestine meets the definition of apartheid under international law.

Chase and Glatt have striven to find common ground in their correspondence and conversations.

“We disagree about many things but do agree that all human life is precious, equality matters, and civil discussions about U.S. policy toward Israel–Palestine and a political solution are needed,” Chase said.

Sharlee DiMenichi

Sharlee DiMenichi is a staff writer for Friends Journal. Contact: sharlee@friendsjournal.org.

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