Author Archives: mepin

Is it time for US Jewry to stop caring if elected reps. are Jewish?

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

A recent JTA article reported that six Jewish candidates were vying in late summer Massachusetts primaries that reverberated with “multiple consequential clashes with Jewish significance.”

But what does “Jewish significance” mean for an American election in the 21st century?

Does it mean support or condemnation of Israel, fighting antisemitism in all its forms, or is it primarily about universalistic values with their roots in prophetic Judaism?

In America today, a Jewish surname does not mean that the candidate identifies as Jewish, where more than 70% of Jews marry out of the faith, and only 4% of Jews consider Israel a primary voting concern, something that has been on the decline for decades. There was a time when support of Israel was a cohesive communal force, but for most American Jews today Israel is a distant concern, and for those that care about the Jewish state, the group in ascendancy are conflicted, embarrassed or downright hostile to the existence of a Jewish state as a consequence of their being taught that ethnic nationalism (Zionism) is akin to racism or a vestige of European colonialism. Others say they “support” Israel, but don’t like the current administration the Israel’s have chosen, so they are in favor of punishing Israel.

That’s what was playing out in those late summer primaries that are a harbinger of where a polarized American nation and American Jews are headed, unless something revolutionary happens. The JTA article highlighted a Jewish candidate, Alex Morse, who they said was symbolic of a younger generation of American Jews who are unafraid to criticize Israel. Morse told JTA, “Too often we conflate criticism of Israel… with being antisemitic or being anti-Jewish, and I think they’re two very different conversations. I think one can be critical of Israel and their actions without being antisemitic.”

Progressive far Left candidates are more hostile to Israel than the vast majority of non-progressive gentile politicians, in the name of supporting oppressed Palestinians. A growing number consider the values and ideas of progressive socialism, best exemplified by the justice Democrats of “the squad” as being what is genuinely Jewish. Morse, like other progressive candidates, singles out “the squad” (Reps. Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) for praise and has not a word of condemnation, even though they are the only members of Congress openly calling for a boycott of Israel. In Morse’s case, he said it would be an “honor to work alongside them.” Although he lost this primary, he is the canary in the coal mine for what young progressive Jews think and where they will lead US-Israel relations in the future as they continue to replace traditional liberal Zionists like Reps. Nita Lowey and Eliot Engel.

So will a progressive Jewish candidate be more likely to fight against Jew hatred than a gentile elected official? Most Jewish candidates only see antisemitism from the far right, minimizing and ignoring it from their own ranks. That is a necessity for self-preservation if you align yourself to a movement that says, if you are a supporter of Israel you are unwelcome within the progressive community. If you see candidates with Jewish surnames, remember that does not mean they care about Israel or will fight all forms of Jew hatred, not just the politically correct ones.

The internecine war is not only between right and left, but between pro-Israel liberals and anti-Israel progressives. This was best evidenced last month when the center-left ADL (Anti-Defamation League) was attacked by 150 progressive organizations, who demanded the ADL be “excluded from social justice coalitions” because of their support of Israel.

So if a Jewish candidate cares only about universal progressive causes or for that matter if a conservative Jewish candidate cares exclusively about domestic issues, why should the Jewish community care about their Jewish genealogy. It seems the only thing that still unites Jews is the shame and defensiveness we feel as a community when a Jewish elected official does something shameful. Then you hope it is a Jew of the party you don’t affiliate with.

The level of antagonism toward fellow Jews is reaching new lows. Those who don’t subscribe to our politics, progressive, liberal, or conservative, are not worthy of anything but scorn. A few years ago I had a conversation with a progressive Rabbi about the relationship between politics and Jewish values. He said his Jewish values were completely entwined with his progressive politics. So I asked him, if someone doesn’t follow your political beliefs, can he or she still be considered a good Jew from your perspective? The answer was no. And this was before US President Donald Trump was elected.

I was reminded of this story when I read an email this week from the president of J Street, Jeremy Ben-Ami that said, “As we approached Rosh Hashanah last year, I found myself unable to extend the traditional wishes for a sweet new year” to people unless they “push the foreign policy conversation in a more progressive direction.” In other words, unless you are a progressive, I don’t respect your viewpoint or acknowledge your humanity, so why offer you a sincere Rosh Hashanah greeting. That may be the very essence of illiberalism and intolerance.

So that leaves us asking what Jewish issues are significant in our upcoming election season. No matter where you stand you need to acknowledge the timeless moral values Jews have given to humanity that are the basis of our Declaration of Independence, and we need to heed the warning of what destroyed the Second Temple, baseless hatred of the other, something in abundance in today’s American Jewish community. For perspective we should remember that when the Nazis came for the Jews, they didn’t care if they were intermarried, converted, Reform, Orthodox, liberal or conservative.

So let’s resolve for the New Year to see your fellow Jews in a more generous light, and not let hate and contempt be our path for those who do not see politics in the same way. It’s time for our clergies to be healers and to stop preaching politics from the bimah this holiday season, to teach universal Jewish values that can be appreciated, no matter where your political orientation lies.

Shanah Tovah.

The writer is director of the Middle East Political Information Network. He regularly briefs members of the US Senate, House, and their foreign policy advisers. He is the senior editor for security at The Jerusalem Report/The Jerusalem Post, and can be read in The Hill, RealClearWorld, JNS, i24TV, JTA, Defense News, and The Forward.

For their survival, Saudis need to follow UAE’s lead

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

In the five-dimensional chess board of the Middle East, the United Arab Emirates’ announcement of normalization and formal ties with Israel is equivalent to moving your queen into position, checking your opponent.

As long-time peace negotiator Aaron David Miller of the Carnegie Endowment said, I “have to admit, it’s extremely clever… the UAE will say it’s prevented annexation; US prevents annexation too and gets a big breakthrough in Israel’s normalization with Arabs and Netanyahu gets an enormous win and is freed from the complications and traps of annexation… It’s a big win for all three.”

Palestinians quickly denounced the agreement, pointing out that Israel received this enormous prize of diplomatic ties for just delaying its extension of sovereignty in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria), while Israel was not forced to give up any settlements over the 1949 armistice line that the Palestinians and much of the international community claim are illegal.

As Natan Sachs, director for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institute, said, “The losers… are the Palestinians. The impatience in the Gulf with the Palestinians now comes to full daylight. The Gulf won’t wait for them any longer, asking of Israel only to avoid declarations of a major change to the status quo.”

If US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and his special adviser on international relations Avi Berkowitz orchestrated this deal behind the scenes, they deserve tremendous credit, something the international pundits have never offered them.

Marginalizing the Palestinians for their intransigence and for refusing to negotiate with Israel for years, is the best path to a settlement in the future.

According to Jonathan Schanzer, vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and an Iran sanctions expert, “This appears to be a decisive victory for the Kushner approach, where regional interests and regional peace win out over annexation.”

The UAE is likely the first among at least two other Gulf states (Bahrain and Oman) that will begin the process of normalization with Israel. They are not doing this because they have become Zionists overnight; the much more likely answer is that they want to position themselves well going forward as Iran will become more assertive in the coming years. To the Gulf states and Israel, Iran is a real and growing mutual threat.

If Trump is reelected, despite his claim that Iran will sign a new nuclear deal with him in just a month’s time, the more likely scenario – should Trump sticks to his guns and demands that the Islamic Republic truly end their nuclear project and their ability to enrich uranium – is that Iran will categorically reject it, which will lead to more American sanctions. This would also lead to Iran accelerating its nuclear program, shortening the breakout period for producing enough enriched uranium for a nuclear device.

If Democratic nominee Joe Biden is elected, he has made it clear he will rejoin the JCPOA and will end sanctions if Iran returns to compliance. Iran will jump with joy, getting an economic lifeline to save the regime, with enough new money to finance their hegemonic ambitions – endangering the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Israel. Remember that the JCPOA has no constraints on Iran’s missile development, human rights abuses, destabilization of neighboring countries or terrorist activates.

Both scenarios increase the risk of war, and the UAE and the other Gulf states, along with Jordan and Egypt, want to be on the side of Israel and America if a regional war with Iran is on the horizon.

Status quo may be the best option for Israel regarding the Palestinians, but not for the Gulf states. By making a move toward Israel now, it is a calculated risk that being aligned with the regional superpower Israel is the best chance to preserve their monarchies. The Iranian attack on Saudi oil facilities earlier this year opened the eyes of the Gulf leaders to their future if they are not aligned with the Americans and Israel.

Although the UAE has a formidable and professional air force, the Saudis, despite having hundreds of billions of dollars in weapons, are at best a mediocre fighting force, not a match for Iran. The Iranians, despite their antiquated conventional forces, have a sophisticated missile program, and the battle-tested Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps could bring the Saudis to their knees. Shi’ite Persian Iran wants control of Mecca and Medina, the holiest sites in Islam, taken away from Sunni Arab Saudi Arabia.

Mohammad Bin Salman, the crown prince and Saudi leader, knows and has been told by Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Kushner, and National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien that he is in the crosshairs of Iran, and to survive he needs to get out of the closet and openly align with Israel. As Amos Yadlin, director of Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies said, Saudi Arabia will be closely watching this “trial balloon.”

Some will say that the conservative Wahabi monarchy is not capable of making such a step.  A couple of months ago, the same was said about the UAE.

The writer is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network. He regularly briefs members of the US Senate, House, and their foreign policy advisers. He is the senior editor for security at the Jerusalem Report/The Jerusalem Post, and is a contributor to i24TV, The Hill, RealClearWorld, JNS, JTA, Defense News and The Forward.

Does the Beirut explosion increase chances of a northern war with Israel?

{Previously published by the JNS}

As officials in Lebanon continue their investigation into the devastating explosion at the Beirut port, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has been quick to deny any responsibility claiming the explosion “has nothing to do” with the group. “We don’t rule the port or administrate it … nor do we know what’s going on there … our responsibility is resistance [against Israel].” In reality, both the United States and Israel believe that Hezbollah controls much of the port as well as Beirut’s airport, both conduits for weapon transfers from its patron Iran.

Nasrallah’s comments come amid mounting anger among ordinary Lebanese at the negligence, corruption and mismanagement of successive Lebanese governments, in which Hezbollah is a dominant player that has allowed an enormous stash of combustible ammonium nitrate to sit at Beirut’s port for more than six years. The port warehouse that exploded on Aug. 4, held 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate—a chemical used for fertilizer and as an ingredient in bombs. To put that in perspective, Timothy McVeigh used about 2.4 tons of the same chemical in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.

So who in Lebanon could have an interest in keeping such vast quantities of explosive material close at hand?

“We have nothing in the port: not an arms depot, nor a missile depot nor missiles nor rifles nor bombs nor bullets nor ammonium nitrate,” protested Nasrallah. Despite his desperate attempts to distance the group from this tragic blast, most Lebanese will assume that the ammonium nitrate belonged to the militia for use in Syria and against Israel. As their grieving turns to outrage, Hezbollah is expected to be the people’s target.

And that is leading many to conclude that this explosion will deter the Iran-backed terrorist group from aggressive action, at least for a while. According to Haaretz’s defense analyst Amos Harel, “For Hezbollah, Beirut’(s) devastation makes provoking Israel even riskier … (Lebanese) public pressure may lead to a real attempt to demilitarize.’ The conventional wisdom is that Hezbollah’s leader and Iran are in no position to confront Israel now. But a wounded animal is far more dangerous … .”

With fury directed at Hezbollah, could it revert to the tried-and-tested response of terrorist organizations and authoritarian regimes, and try and turn the people’s attention away from its own incompetence and complicity, and scapegoat its opponents? Nothing works better in the Arab world than to blame Israel, or better yet, escalate violence by provoking an Israeli response that will assuredly kill Lebanese civilians who are used as human shields. Hezbollah’s modus operandi is to stockpile munitions and missiles in civilian areas, intentionally placing innocent citizens in harm’s way. Israel has long warned that it will strike if its security is threatened, so could Hezbollah try and force Israel into the fray, and divert the anger elsewhere?

Some see a parallel and historical precedent for another popular uprising of the Lebanese people against Hezbollah. In 2005, Hezbollah and Syria assassinated former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri, precipitating the Cedar Revolution, a mass movement of the Lebanese people that forced Syria to withdraw its army from Lebanon. Two movements arose, the March 14 coalition lead by Rafic’s son, Raad, with Western and Sunni backing, faced off against the opposing March 8 coalition movement backed by Hezbollah, Syria and Iran.

In 2006, Hezbollah instigated the Second Lebanon War by killing eight Israeli soldiers and abducting two others. During the 33-day war, Hezbollah fired rockets into Israel; the Israelis retaliated and devastated Lebanon. Hezbollah remained the dominant force in Lebanon and over time gained more military strength, while effectively increasing its control and participation in the Lebanese government.

As the Lebanese government investigates the cause of the massive explosion at the port, will it look at itself in the mirror? Will it see its own corruption and acquiescence, allowing Hezbollah to control Beirut’s airport and ports, permitting the Lebanese Armed Forces to become a shell of an army, cowed by Hezbollah, Syria and Iran? Its incompetence and weakness leave its fate and potential war with Israel in the hands of Hezbollah and Iran.

If these growing protests do lead to more pressure against the Lebanese government, the chaos and anarchy that may follow could actually serve Hezbollah’s interest, with Lebanese society retreating to their warring camps of the March 8 and March 14 movements. This would then circumvent the potential for a large Lebanese consensus to come together against Hezbollah and its Iranian patron.

And to be clear, it is Iran that ultimately pulls the strings. Although Hezbollah is the dominant player in Lebanon, it is not an independent actor. Hezbollah is better viewed as a division of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps; its leader follows the explicit orders of the Iranian ayatollah based on the religious doctrine of Twelver Shi’ism that gives ultimate authority to the Supreme Leader in Iran.

How the Beirut port blast will affect Iran’s master plan to convert tens of thousands of Hezbollah’s conventional missiles into precision-guided projectiles that could overwhelm Israel’s multi-layered missile defenses, and accurately strike its most vital security and infrastructure locations, is not known.

However, Hezbollah may decide to make lemonade out of lemons, and utilize this as an opportunity for Iran to transfer precision systems into Lebanon under the guise of humanitarian shipments avoiding the inevitable Israeli attacks. If Iran brings game-changing weapons directly into Lebanon—smuggled along with aid deliveries—Israel would not dare act, knowing the reaction of the world in light of the suffering of the Lebanese people. Yet in time, Israel could be forced to strike to stop weapons transfers it deems game-changers, escalating the chance for war.

Before the explosion, Hezbollah was increasing its activities on Israel’s northern border with terror cells probing multiple locations and provoking fire from Israel’s army. A Western perspective has claimed that the combination of the ongoing economic devastation of Iran’s and Lebanon’s economies by the coronavirus, coupled with the U.S. sanctions campaign against Iran, have reduced Tehran’s ability to fund its proxy armies, decreasing chances for confrontation. However, this explosion has now made the region even more volatile, and the Beirut chaos may increase the possibility of violence spiraling out of control. As Seth Franzman wrote in National Review, “If Hezbollah does capitalize on this disaster, it will only accelerate Lebanon’s economic collapse, and hold the country hostage in a future war with Israel.”

If the pressure against Hezbollah from Lebanon’s Sunni, Druze and Christian citizens for storing munitions in civilian areas escalates, will Hezbollah and Tehran back off and opt away from confrontation, or will they conclude that a northern war with Israel is their best bet to deflect the fury burying their incompetence in the lives of the human shields that will inevitably pay the price?

Dr. Eric R. Mandel is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network. He regularly briefs members of the U.S. Senate, House and their foreign-policy advisers. He is a columnist for “The Jerusalem Post” and a contributor to i24TV, “The Hill,” JTA and “The Forward.”

Michelle Makori is an internationally acclaimed television journalist, news anchor, reporter and producer. Most recently, she was the lead anchor and editor-in-chief at i24News. Makori has also worked as an anchor and reporter for Bloomberg, CNN Money, CGTN and SABC.

What does pro-Israel mean in the age of Trump?

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

The term “pro-Israel” has become has become a lightning rod, due in part to President Donald Trump’s many self-described pro-Israel statements and actions, and the scorn many people have for just about anything he says or does.

Writing in Haaretz, Jonathan Tobin said, “Democrats and never-Trump former Republicans argue that even if you support the president’s policies, they are bad for Israel… the association with Trump is tarnishing the Jewish state… [yet] if Democrats are increasingly divided on Israel, this is a trend that long predates Trump and was largely weaponized by Barack Obama’s feud” with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the Iran nuclear deal.

Eight years ago, when asked what it meant to be pro-Israel, David Shipler, the former New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief, said, “It seems obvious to say that being pro-Israel means supporting Israel’s survival, security and well-being as a just and prosperous society. Nobody would disagree.”

Is that definition of being pro-Israel obvious to most Jewish Americans today?

Twenty-five years ago, pro-Israel was clearly understood to mean that you supported Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, respecting the democratically elected government as the will of its people who put their children and themselves in harm’s way every day. Fifty years earlier, six million Jews were slaughtered, with Israel being the refuge of the tiny remnant that survived, along with 750,000 Jews ethnically cleansed from Arab lands. Israel’s six million was to be protected and defended by the Jewish Diaspora so a second Holocaust could never occur again.

That never meant that Israel was always right, but to be pro-Israel you believed Israel was right more than wrong, and certainly more moral than its neighbors, which imported European style antisemitism on top of their own anti-Jewish animus. That – combined with misogyny, authoritarianism and a profound lack of human rights – made Israel the clear choice for American sympathy across the political spectrum.

With the election of Barack Obama to the presidency and his stated goal to put “daylight” between America and Israel, the definition of what it meant to be pro-Israel was put under stress, as most American Jews overwhelmingly voted for Mr. Obama, as they have consistently voted for the Democratic Party in every election cycle. 

At the same time a new organization came on the scene that supported a more much critical attitude to Israel that was adopted by the new administration, hoping to re-define what it means to be pro-Israel. The primary focus of J Street changed the positive shared values and security-based “special relationship” to highlighting Israel’s occupation of the disputed territories, calling for punishing consequences for Israel’s intransigence.

This resonated with many young Jewish adults who were immersed in college campuses where intersectionality is the prevailing wind, Israel being the victimizer and the Palestinians being the innocent lamb. Although J Street and its college subsidiaries claimed they were in favor of a Jewish and democratic state and against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, it still provided forums for those who believe in BDS as the best method to pressure Israel to change its ways. 

WITH THIS, the foundation of what it meant to be pro-Israel for young as well as older Jews began to crumble.

This culminated in the Obama administration’s orchestration of the passage of UNSC Resolution 2334 that labeled any Israeli presence in West Bank (Judea and Samaria) a violation of international law. Being pro-Israel now meant that if you believe Israel has legal rights over the 1967 line, you are a supporter of an international crime against humanity. To Israel’s critics, everything about Israel is defined through the lens of its occupation of the disputed territories.

Enter Donald Trump, and the “pro-Israel” moniker became even more politicized, if that were possible, by challenging Jewish Democrats’ loyalty to the Jewish state. This occurred contemporaneously with the rise of the Democratic congresswomen who routinely crossed the line into anti-Zionism and antisemitism without incurring any consequences.

Trump’s “pro-Israel” support of Israel’s annexation of the Golan, extension of sovereignty to 30% of the West Bank, withdrawing support to the Palestinian Authority for supporting terrorists, have all been condemned by J Street as wrong and counter-productive. The organization’s advocacy, primarily in support of the Palestinian position, seems to have been re-invented into what it claims is an authentic 2020 pro-Israel position.

So what should define pro-Israel in 2020 across the political spectrum?

Here are a few suggestions.

  1. Being able to say the Land of Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people.
  2. That the state of Israel is entitled to exist as a Jewish and democratic state without qualifiers.
  3. Respecting, even if not agreeing, with the outcomes of Israel’s elections
  4. Not supporting boycotts, divestment or sanctions in any form.
  5. Not allying with anti-Israel organizations that question Israel’s right to exist.
  6. If you are pro-peace but advocate in favor of the Palestinian narrative that Jews are not indigenous, the creation of the state is illegitimate, you cannot spin that as being pro-Israel.
  7. If you advocate for a binational state you are not pro-Israel.
  8. You are pro-Israel if you demand any resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict include an “end of conflict agreement” that all claims are forever ended, including the Palestinian right of return.

This list is certainly open to debate, but the hope is that it can create a dialogue into what pro-Israel should mean in 2020 and beyond. Just because you are Jewish does not automatically give you higher standing or the claim that anything you advocate is pro-Israel.

Whether Donald Trump or Joe Biden prevails in the November election, the eventual winner’s positions and actions over the next four years will challenge the very definition of what “pro-Israel” means. The ever-expanding and contracting tent of who is within or outside the pro-Israel tent will challenge Jewish Americans and their supporters in Congress for the foreseeable future.

The writer is director of MEPIN (Middle East Political Information Network). He regularly briefs members of Congress and their foreign policy aides, as well White House advisers. He is the senior security editor for The Jerusalem Report/Jerusalem Post, and has written in The Hill, JNS, JTA, RealClearWorld, The Forward, i24, Israel Hayom and Defense News.

Are Beinart and Rogen the handwriting on the wall for Diaspora Jewry?

{Previously published by the JNS}

Much has been written about Peter Beinart’s recent article “I No Longer Believe in a Jewish State” and Seth Rogen’s simplistic ill-informed podcast delegitimizing the State of Israel. When you are praised by the anti-Semitic Code Pink organization as Rogen was, you know you have crossed a line—whether intended or not—into the BDS anti-Israel world that claims Israel is the worst nation on earth, an ethnically cleansing illegitimate enterprise from its beginning. Rogen’s defenders claimed he apologized, except that he didn’t. “I did not apologize for what I said. I offered clarity.” That is the very definition of not apologizing. Blaming his childhood Jewish education for his adult ignorance is pathetic. The best he can say is that Israel has a right to exist.

The important question to ask regarding their outrageous statements is whether these are indicative of where the American Jewish Diaspora is headed.

Let’s be clear from the start. Criticism of the Jewish state is the national sport of Israelis and for Jewish Americans of all stripes. The false claim that those who support and defend the right of the Jewish state to live in peace and security are a non-thinking, biased group that never sees anything wrong with the actions of the Jewish state is simply false and a tactic of Israel critics to delegitimize those who support Israel, warts and all.

So let’s do a simple test to gain some insight into the potential staying power of American Jewry for the long term, at least in quantifying the number of future identifiable Jews. Honestly ask yourself what percentage of American Jews, who are not Orthodox or Zionists, will have grandchildren and great-grandchildren be Jewish beyond defining it as enjoying bagels and being proud to have an ancestry of one Jewish grandparent.

If we are honest, the answer isn’t pretty. Unless you are a Zionist or Orthodox, your grandchildren and great-grandchildren will be further and further estranged from their past, beyond a spit test sent to you by ancestry.com or “23andme.”

Yes, there will still be some small number of Jews who continue to identify as Conservative, Reform or Reconstructionist, and will fulfill the fine aspirations of each one of those denominations, but they will be far smaller in number. As a Conservative Jew, it’s painful for me to admit the truth.

The American-born Israeli novelist Hillel Halkin asked, “What binds American Jews together today? Most of us are secular; the religious bond is gone. Few of us speak Hebrew; the language bond is gone. What remains is the historical narrative of 80 generations and Israel, the realization of that dream and the spiritual and cultural light that radiates to the rest of the world. If we abandon Israel, we abandon our future. If Israel is gone, Jewish life will be gone in one or two generations. … If we forget that narrative, gone is our Jewishness. Throughout our history, the driving engine of survival has been the hope for returning to sovereignty in the birthplace of our history—Eretz Israel. The State of Israel is the culmination of this dream.”

Today’s young Jewish Americans don’t relate to Israel, as their cultural immersion from middle school through graduate school has painted Israel as the last illegitimate remnant of imperialism, which should be expunged for society to advance. If they care about their Judaism, it is overwhelmingly defined by tikkun olam, repairing the world—a lovely universalist concept that is an important part, but not in itself enough, to make one Jewish. If that is your primary identification with Judaism, you may be a wonderful person, but there is no compelling reason to pass your Jewish identity on. If you also see the Jewish state as anachronistic and militaristic—something that you cannot be associated with to live with your progressive ideology—then you take a step towards Beinart and Rogen.

This all sounds harsh, perhaps a little over the top. But to ignore the facts and reality of what is happening to liberal American Judaism, especially if you care about Judaism’s future in the diaspora, is to bury your head in the sand.

Since most American Jews will not become religious, much less Orthodox, and don’t identify in religious terms in the contemporary post-denominational era, the only sure way to have a continuation of Jewish identify in the Diaspora for the future is to connect to Israel in some way. If you are an atheist and a Zionist, you have a much better chance that your progeny will be meaningfully Jewish than if you are estranged or hostile to Israel and consider your Jewishness to consist of being a really nice person.

With an overwhelming intermarriage rate—and most American Jews uninterested in Judaism as a religion except for maybe a family Passover seder—then a re-engagement with Zionism may be the last hope for maintaining the Jewish census in America. This should begin by ending the false narrative of only seeing Israel through the prism of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and defining it completely by its “occupation” of the disputed territories. Otherwise, Peter Beinart and Seth Rogan are truly the handwriting on the wall for American Judaism.

Learn to love Israel on your own terms and pass it on to your children. It will preserve your 3,000-year-old heritage and legacy for future generations, with all its beauty and complexities.

Dr. Eric R. Mandel is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network. He regularly briefs members of the U.S. Senate, House and their foreign-policy advisers. He is a columnist for “The Jerusalem Post” and a contributor to i24TV, “The Hill,” JTA and “The Forward.”

Editorialized news reporting is worse now than the Bari Weiss controversy

In 2016, James Rutenberg, the media reporter for The New York Times, wrote, “You have to throw out the textbook [of] American journalism…. You would move closer than you’ve ever been to being oppositional. That’s uncomfortable and uncharted territory for every mainstream, non-opinion journalist… by normal standards, untenable.” 

That was written in response to the nomination of Donald Trump. You can despise Trump for fabrications and divisiveness, but is throwing out journalistic standards the way forward?

For the uninitiated, this is known as “advocacy journalism” or “editorialized news reporting.” Opinion with the goal to convince is what is expected in an editorial or opinion piece, but it crosses a line when it is routinely found where news is supposed to be reported, and it is a profound danger to our democracy.

As Gerald Baker of The Wall Street Journal wrote regarding today’s news media, they are “more entrenched and [have] more enduring power to reshape the way we talk and think about politics than Mr. Trump does. We are facing nothing less than a concerted, sustained and comprehensive effort to re-educate Americans in service of a radical ideological agenda.”

Opinion writer and editor Bari Weiss’s resignation from the Times spotlighted the illiberalism and workplace intimidation at the paper of record. That should, in and of itself, frighten all fair-minded people, especially because her colleagues called her a “Nazi” and “racist” and accused her of not being progressive enough, writing as she did about antisemitism and Israel without the required level of self-loathing.

So, while Ms. Weiss’s description of a toxic environment in The New York Times’ opinion and editorial section is deplorable, the elephant in the room that must not be missed is the activist agenda of the news side of the paper, where like-minded writers and editors inject their high-minded opinions into their news stories. 

You see it in the headlines, choice of stories, the photos accompanying an article blatantly meant to influence you, and the placement of a story to advance their perception of right-minded thinking. These manipulations have been going on for decades, perpetuating a fraud upon the public who thought they could blindly trust their news sources to be unbiased.

This is in part the reason why many pro-Israel Times readers canceled their subscriptions over the past two decades. The Times has been fixated on Israel, with a disproportionate number of news, opinion and editorial pieces written in relation to the minuscule size of the country, most of a highly critical nature. The profound human rights abuses around the world, especially a stone’s throw from Israel, receive proportionally much less coverage.

Seventeen years ago, the Times created the position of a public editor to address the concerns of its readers. Its first editor wrote a column titled “Is ‘The New York Times’ a Liberal Paper?” His answer, “Of course it is.” 

Thank you for the honesty. Yet in 2017, the publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. eliminated the position, claiming it was not needed anymore in the age of social media. So much for critical self-examination.

SO IS news-journalism’s goal in the 21st century to inform the public as objectively as possible, despite acknowledging our innate biases, or is it OK to consciously write copy as a public relations agency would to create an impression in a news story that corresponds to the moral compass of the writers and their colleagues?

Weiss brought a fresh viewpoint to the opinion section of the Times, and was eager for a vigorous debate over the merits of her ideas. She didn’t expect intimidation, delegitimization, and rank illiberalism from her colleagues in both the news and opinion sections, who, like our so-delicate college kids, take offense at challenging ideas, demanding a safe space from any differing or uncomfortable thought.

I was not surprised by Weiss’s allegations. Over the years I have spoken to former and current editors and writers at both the news and opinion desks at the paper of record, who have told me that working at “The Gray Lady,” if you are perceived to be balanced or sympathetic to Israel, you are marginalized. These advocacy news writers were nurtured in universities where political diversity is absent, and where advocating for the victim and oppressed is their holier-than-thou mission.

In November I spoke to students at Berkeley who asked me what newspapers and media sources they should read to get a fair and well-rounded perspective. I told them they must read many sources, as almost all news departments are mission-oriented these days. More disturbing was that the students told me that in their classrooms they were afraid to express a point of view different from their professors, risking ostracism or a bad grade.

For some, the uproar over journalism is much ado about nothing. The new editor-in-chief of The Jewish Week, Andrew Silow-Caroll, who has taken a decidedly left turn in his opinions compared to his predecessor, Gary Rosenblatt. Silow-Caroll, in part in an attempt to attract younger readers, wrote a spirited defense of American journalism in the aftermath of the Bari Weiss affair. 

The New York Times’ opinion section is a singular, and highly influential, showplace of journalism, but it tends to overshadow the more typical work of the thousands of reporters, editors and broadcasters who are trying to provide us with the diet of information that is essential to a healthy, functioning democracy.” 

If only it were so.

Less generously, Silow-Caroll seems to blame Weiss for being thin-skinned. 

“She courted and welcomed controversy, and often her words and assignments seemed calculated to provoke exactly the reactions she now decries.” 

That is some spin, blaming the victim!

Ms. Weiss confronted the worst of progressive journalism at the prestigious New York Times, but she can hold her own. But it is the readers of the paper of record whom I worry about, as well as the students whose professors practice activism over academics, radicalizing the young people who are our future journalists, making them believe it is OK to put the stamp of your opinion in a news article. That is the greatest threat to our democracy.

Bottom line to news reporters: No matter how just your personal causes, to be respected as a true journalist, put facts in one place, opinion in another.

The writer is the director of MEPIN (Middle East Political Information Network). He regularly briefs members of Congress and their foreign policy aides, as well White House advisers. He is the senior security editor for the Jerusalem Report/The Jerusalem Post, and has written for The Hill, JNS, JTA, RealClearWorld, the Forward, and Defense News.

Why Palestinians can’t sign an end-of-conflict pact

Palestinian Arabs cannot sign an agreement that ends all claims and recognizes the right of a Jewish state to exist and live unmolested on land that was ever Muslim.

According to the usual international peace negotiators, everyone knows the end game to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, exactly what each party must concede for a final treaty. They say all that is needed is for Israel to withdraw to the 1967 lines with minor adjustments, with east Jerusalem as the capital of the new Palestinian state. If only Israel offered that, peace would reign.

But diplomats twist themselves into knots, finding ways to rationalize Palestinian intransigence, trying to explain away the fact that all those concessions were already offered to the Palestinian Authority in 2001 and 2008 and were soundly rejected. In 2008 the Israelis offered 94% of the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) with land swaps to make up for the 6%, east Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state, while Israel even conceded giving up exclusive sovereignty of the Temple Mount, the Mount of Olives, and the City of David, not to mention billions in international investment in a new Palestinian state. The Palestinians only had to give up the right of return, sign “an end-of-conflict and end-of-claims” agreement for perpetuity and be demilitarized.

If the Palestinians’ goal was truly two states for two peoples, and they truly wanted an independent Palestinian state living side by side a Jewish state, as UNGA Resolution 181 called for, why has this conflict not been resolved?

A recent article in The Hill by Dennis Ross and David Makovsky, two veteran peace negotiators and advisers who should know better, referred to a “two-state solution” and a “viable two-state outcome” in their attack on the Trump peace plan. Those terms mean completely different things to the Palestinians than they do to Western negotiators.

To Palestinians, two states mean an Arab state in the West Bank and a binational state in Israel that will become Arab-ruled with time, because the Palestinians will never give up the right of return, as well documented in the new book The War of Return by Adi Schwartz and Einat Wilf, a former Knesset member from the Center-Left Independence and Labor parties. The Palestinian demand is that all Palestinian refugees and their descendants in perpetuity have the right to move into Israel at any time of their choosing. In other words, this is the demographic destruction of Israel as a Jewish state.

Western negotiators and politicians of both American political parties have never fully understood or let on that they understood what the Palestinians really want, believing the answer to bridge the divide was leaving any documents between the parties ambiguous, so both could claim victory.

The only logical approach to truly ending this conflict is to write the most clear, unambiguous and specific documents, with every possible “i” dotted and “t” crossed, so no party can ever claim it still has outstanding issues in the future. Even contingencies should be included in the agreement, with a mechanism to respond to any violations.

Why?

Because Palestinian Arabs cannot at the present time sign an agreement that ends all claims and sign an end-of-conflict resolution that recognizes the right of a Jewish state to exist and live unmolested on land that was ever Muslim. I brought this up with president Bill Clinton in 2004, a man who truly gave his all to solve the conflict. Surprisingly, despite his sincere personal investment in the conflict, he didn’t seem to appreciate the essential importance of signing an end-of-conflict resolution, but he did tell me that prime ministers Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak insisted upon it, as did Ehud Olmert in 2008. This is the eternal blind spot of Western negotiators and American presidents who seem to just want a deal signed, and inexplicably believe ambiguity will build trust. That was the failure of the Oslo Accords, giving away tangible assets for unfulfilled promises.

Western peacemakers have claimed without a credible basis that acknowledging the Palestinian right to return is just a needed gesture for Palestinian dignity, and say that the Palestinians will never take advantage of it, knowing that only a token number of refugees can be allowed. Just listen to what Palestinian leaders from Yasser Arafat to Mahmoud Abbas say, that vehemently contradicts this.

There is no international right for the return of refugees, certainly not descendants of refugees. In fact every other refugee in the world aided by the UNHCR (UN High Commission for Refugees) is to be rehabilitated in the country where they received refuge. This is especially true for refugees from the 1948 War of Independence, who were active participants in the war to annihilate the Jewish inhabitants, joining five Arabs armies whose goal was the complete annihilation of the Jewish state. The most the pro-Palestinian world can argue is that UNGA Resolution 194 calls for the right of return. However as with all General Assembly resolutions it has absolutely no force of law.

If peacemakers truly want a sustainable peace, they have to acknowledge that Israel has legal rights over the 1949 armistice lines if an eventual deal includes land swaps. Just like with the refugee issue, if it is not completely spelled out, no matter what agreement is signed, Palestinians will always have a pretext to say Israel stole Palestinian land with land swaps, and once again, preach and prepare for a new war.

The pro-Palestinian Middle East Monitor said it the best. “Palestinians will continue to seek a just peace that will provide future generations with their birthright; their land will be returned, one way or another.” Naïve Westerners hear the words “just peace” and assume it means two states for two peoples. What it actually means is the unlimited right of return for every Palestinian forever to Israel, as no Palestinian government can give up an individual Palestinian descendant’s claim to be a displaced owner of what is now Israel.

The annexation debate has obscured the true paradigm of the conflict. The question is not if Israel annexes 30% of the West Bank, would it end the dream of a Palestinian state. The question to ask is, would the Palestinians accept the West Bank with land swaps that ensure Israel’s security, sign an end-of-conflict resolution and accept a Jewish state? The answer for the foreseeable future is no. This is not a territorial conflict or else this would have ended long ago.

If this hill for a comprehensive agreement is too high to climb at this time, so be it. What is needed is honesty, so a putative peace agreement is not just a recipe for fruitless concessions by Israel.

If all the Palestinians are capable of doing is negotiating a better status quo with more economic development and investment in exchange for nonviolence, then that should be the path for this generation.

The Trump peace plan or any other agreement will never have any staying power if it doesn’t include an end-of-conflict agreement, a recognition of two states for two peoples that clearly states that one of those states is Jewish, and an absolute end of any right for descendants of original Palestinian refugees to return to the State of Israel.

The writer is the director of MEPIN (Middle East Political Information Network). He regularly briefs members of Congress and their foreign policy aides, as well White House advisers. He is the senior security editor for the Jerusalem Report/ Jerusalem Post, and writes for The Hill, JNS, JTA, RealClearWorld and Defense News.

Biden vs. Trump on Israel and anti-Semitism

{Previously published by the JNS}

A pro-Israel friend of mine told me that he wished AIPAC would publish an unbiased list comparing the policy differences between former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. President Donald Trump in regard to Israel. It was refreshing to hear in our current political climate someone who wanted to objectively analyze past actions and future policy positions of the candidates, as well as looking at their current foreign-policy advisers and associates.

In the minefield of American politics, trying to look at the facts in context and draw conclusions is almost impossible, as ad hominem attacks rule the day—unfortunately, many of them justified.

Trump haters see a president who is a narcissistic and racial divider, lacking intellectual depth and with a willful aversion to the truth. To others, Biden represents a person who has lost his cognitive abilities and is completely under the sway of the anti-Israel progressive wing of his party. Those progressives want to tear down America and create a Socialist republic that redistributes wealth; they call for reparations; and promote a victimhood mentality that allows Palestinians to remain as perpetual victims, while viewing Israel as a colonialist enterprise that should be sent to the scrapheap of racist regimes.

Now that I have your attention and have raised your blood pressure, let’s try, without contempt or bile, to compare what Trump and Biden have said and done concerning Israel and American Jews. The list is not exhaustive, but it should stimulate your intellectual curiosity and motivate you to Google for more answers. Bottom of Form

Critics of Trump claim that he is the icon of white supremacists who hate Jews, dog-whistling anti-Semitic tropes that only they can hear. Biden will often cite Trump’s divisive words in at a rally in Charlottesville, Va., that exhibited anti-Jewish vitriol as the best example. Some claim that those words were taken out of context.

Supporters of Trump will claim that he is the most pro-Israel President in history, sanctioning the Israeli annexation of the Golan Heights, moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, cutting off funds to UNWRA for perpetuating a false narrative that descendants of Palestinian refugees are entitled to go into Israel, penalizing the Palestinian Authority for incentivizing terrorism, and acknowledging that Israel has international legal rights over the 1967 line, allowing it to extend sovereignty into the West Bank.

For clarity, Israel truly annexed the Golan Heights because it had a previous legitimate stakeholder, Syria, whereas Israel cannot technically annex anything in the West Bank because the last legal entity, the Ottoman Empire, does not exist anymore. Article 80 of the U.N. Charter memorializes Israel’s rights in the West Bank, so the proper term would be extending sovereignty, rather than annexation. The wisdom of exercising those rights is subject to a legitimate debate between Trump and Biden supporters.

Critics of Trump claim that his one-sided actions against the Palestinians have made a two states for two people’s resolution of the conflict almost impossible. An icon of J Street and the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, Peter Beinart, went so far as to write a New York Times opinion piece titled “I No Longer Believe in a Jewish State.” Critics claim that Trump’s “Peace to Prosperity” Mideast plan grants Israel land in the West Bank, and would turn Israel into an apartheid and undemocratic state undeserving of American support. There is a new Democrat House letter demanding the end of funding for Israel in response to its “annexation.”

Trump supporters claim that Biden, despite Iranian transgressions of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, intends to rejoin that fatally flawed agreement, which endangers both U.S. and Israeli national security interests. Made under the Obama administration, it willfully ignored Iran’s increased human-rights abuses against its citizens, its missile development and its support of global terrorism (particularly against the Jewish state), while enriching the Islamic Republic with billions in sanctions relief.

Biden supporters claim that the JCPOA was a good, if imperfect, agreement that ended the ability of Iran to ever have a nuclear weapon. Critics claim that the deal is actually a pathway to an Iranian nuclear weapon, legitimizing their possession to a terrorist regime that has called time and again for the annihilation of America and Israel, as they have to wait only a few years for the deal’s nuclear prohibitions to expire.

Biden supporters acclaim the Obama passage of UNSC Resolution 2334, which stated that Israel would be in flagrant violation of international law if it keeps possession of any land over the 67 Line, as advancing peace and a two-state solution because it forces Israel to negotiate based on the 1967 line, which is the Palestinian position. Critics claim this hurts Israel’s security by undermining UNSC Resolution 242, which recognized Israel’s 1967 defensive line as unacceptably vulnerable to its neighbors who have repeatedly launched wars against them, acknowledging that Israel can never go back to that indefensible position.

Biden supporters claim that he and President Barack Obama were very pro-Israel, as evidenced by the largest financial-aid package ever given to Israel, the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) worth more than $30 billion during the course of 10 years. They also say that Biden was supportive of additional aid to help Israel with its anti-missile system. Critics say that the amount of the MOU was actually reduced as punishment for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu going to Congress against Obama’s wishes to fight against the Iran deal—the Obama administration’s prized foreign-policy legacy. Advocates of military aid to Israel point out that almost all the money given to Israel for defense spending goes to American contractors, thereby helping the U.S. economy, and that this is a two-way street, as Israeli soldiers are arguably doing our work for us, being our only reliable ally in a region of fickle dictatorships.

Trump supporters say that if you want to look at where Biden is going on Israel, you only have to look at the head of his foreign-policy transition team, Avril Haines. She signed a J Street letter critical of Israel advocating for a more “balanced” position in the Democratic Convention Platform, treating Israel and Palestinians equally, and would not be “silent on the rights of Palestinians, on Israeli actions that undermine those rights and the prospects for a two-state solution.”

Biden supporters say that if you want to know who Joe is, just look at his statements at AIPAC conventions over the last 30 years, and the pro-Israel letters and legislation that he has signed onto. In 2016, he said, “Israel will always exist strong and capable as the ultimate guarantor of security for Jewish people around the world. That is the abiding moral obligation we have.” Biden supporters claim that Trump crossed the line when he claimed that Jews who vote Democratic are disloyal. Biden responded, “Mr. President, these comments are insulting and inexcusable … . It may not be beneath you, but it is beneath the office you hold.”

Trump supporters claim that the charge that he is anti-Semitic is ludicrous, as his grandchildren and daughter are Orthodox Jews. His executive action protecting Jewish students on college campuses from harassment and intimidation for expressing their pro-Israeli advocacy is now protected under the Civil Rights Act and applauded by pro-Israel supporters, but condemned as a violation of free speech by progressives who support Biden. According to AMCHA—an organization that battles campus anti-Semitism—the Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition equating anti-Zionism as a form of anti-Semitism has seen a 300 percent increase in challenging that definition, something that has been incorporated into the Trump strategy to fight anti-Semitism.

In America today, getting anyone to appreciate or respect different policies and opinions is a lost cause. The visceral reaction to Trump is palpable, and his rhetoric does him no favors. For others, Biden is no different from the progressive anti-Israel “Squad” in Congress, and his articulation problems do him no favors. Biden’s much-anticipated choice of a vice-presidential candidate will be venerated on the left and excoriated on the right.

American Jews vote overwhelmingly Democrat, and for many, Trump’s divisive actions have made this an easy choice. For a minority of American Jews, Biden may be a good man, but has lost his way on Israel and would be a dangerous choice for its long-term security. His stated policy to rejoin the Iran deal poses a serious threat to Israel, and his views on the Palestinians and international law are naive at best, and dangerous at worst.

America will survive Trump or Biden. But for the minority of American Jews who have Israel as one of their top-five policy issues in voting for a president, would  Biden or Trump be a better choice to enhance U.S.-Israeli relations? Or would one of them actually endanger Israel by his policy decisions?

Dr. Eric R. Mandel is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network. He regularly briefs members of the U.S. Senate, House and their foreign-policy advisers. He is a columnist for “The Jerusalem Post” and a contributor to i24TV, “The Hill,” JTA and “The Forward.”

Will annexation embolden Iran?

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

Could the ramifications of annexation reverberate from an exclusively Israeli-Palestinian issue, into one with regional implications that could lead to a large-scale war?

Does Israel’s extension of sovereignty (annexation) into the West Bank, in accord with the Trump peace plan, play into an Iranian strategy that has been looking for an opportune time to respond to Israel’s continuing attacks on its interests in Syria, and against its missile shipments transiting through Iraq?

Iran’s strategy in Syria in regard to Israel has not changed, biding its time, waiting for a better landscape when Israel will be internationally isolated, to finally respond to the hundreds of Israeli missile and air attacks against its assets and allies in Syria. It has 150,000 missiles under its control in Lebanon, targeting every Israeli city and Israel’s nuclear facility in Dimona.

With the extension of Israeli sovereignty in the West Bank and the inevitable international condemnation, Iran’s patience may have been rewarded. It can hope for a new American administration that may not only relieve sanctions on Iran and rejoin the JCPOA, but may actually sanction Israel because of its annexation of the disputed territory in the West Bank.

Could the ramifications of annexation reverberate from an exclusively Israeli-Palestinian issue, into one with regional implications that could lead to a large-scale war?

Just as some in Israel believe now is the time to act and extend sovereignty, as the opportunity will not being there under a Biden administration, Iran may also calculate that if Biden becomes president and re-enters the JCPOA, there would then be the opportunity to take military action against Israel, believing Biden will not want to endanger a nuclear deal by siding with Israel.

Iran remembers that after the JCPOA went into effect, it paid no consequences for its continued support of terrorism, complicity in the Syrian genocide, increased human rights abuses against its own citizens, and accelerated development of long-range missiles. This was despite the Obama administration’s promises to the contrary. The administration chose instead to ignore these Iranian transgressions in the name of preserving the deal.

So would a Biden administration give Israel a black eye over annexation? Remember that after the surprise Egyptian and Syrian attack on Israel during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, an audio recording of then-secretary of state Henry Kissinger said, “[The] best result would be if Israel came out a little ahead but got bloodied in the process.”

Are there any parallels to today? Kissinger’s Machiavellian strategy hoped to cower Israel by refusing to resupply it for a week under dire straits, hoping to make Israel less intransigent on territorial concessions in the future. If Israel has annexed land that Biden views as Palestinian, what kind of support can Israel expect if Iran unleashes Hezbollah against Israel?

The administration’s ear will be tuned to J Street, an organization highly critical of Israeli policy and that believes for Israel’s own good it needs to be taught a lesson.

Israel hoped its repeated air strikes and the American sanctions that have left the Iranian economy in shambles would force Iran to withdraw from Syria, unable to afford to continue to invest in Syria.

Unfortunately, revolutionary Islamist regimes don’t play by Western rules.

NOT ONLY is Iran still in Syria, but Russian promises that the Revolutionary Guards, Hezbollah, and Shi’ite militias would not move into southern and eastern Syria to threaten Israel have been ignored, increasing the likelihood of more Israeli attacks and a potential war.

As Amos Yadlin, the head of INSS and former head of Israeli Military Intelligence, said, “The extensive attacks in Syria… show that the assessment that the Iranians are leaving Syria is a wish…. We must be prepared for the entire scope of possible responses from the Shi’ite axis, from missiles to cyber terrorism.”

Iran’s long-term strategy to encircle Israel is halfway home with effectively control of Syria and Lebanon today. The next significant domino to fall is the vulnerable Jordanian monarchy, whose collapse would result in a Syrian-style civil war between Iranian Shi’ite proxies and Sunni Islamists who will fight tooth and nail, destabilizing the region.

If Iran sees a limited window of opportunity to attack Israel while influential factions of America are furious with Israel over annexation, will it act on that?

The conventional wisdom is that Iran will wait until after the US presidential election to see if the unpredictable Trump wins, or if a more compliant Biden prevails. From an Iranian perspective, Israeli annexation and the international fallout against Israel will play into their hands, especially if Democrats control the Senate, House and executive branch, and work in concert with the United Nations.

In the international community, Belgium has telegraphed Western European wishes, asking for sanctions on Israel and recognition of Palestinian statehood even before Israel acts to extend sovereignty.

Behind the scenes Israel’s strongest allies against Iran will remain the conservative Gulf states – Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt – which all know that Iran is its primary threat but can’t say so publicly. They will do whatever they can to help Israel defeat Iran, annexation or not.

Their current not-so-secret intelligence and security cooperation with Israel could actually increase even after annexation, but unfortunately their anti-Israel public rhetoric will also increase with any Israeli annexation, in order to placate their citizenry, who have been fed a lifelong diet of blaming Israel for all their problems.

A Biden administration may not like Israel’s annexation. However, if it wants to keep a lid on a major war erupting between Israel and Iran, it will need to be out ahead of the issue. That means publicly warning Iran that if it initiates a war with Israel, likely perpetrated by its proxies in Lebanon and Gaza, it will not only be held responsible, but the United States will be fully supportive of Israeli actions. That is the best chance to avoid war.

This will be a tough sell in 2021 because of the anger a Biden administration will have for Israel’s extension of sovereignty into the West Bank. The greater picture of keeping a lid on an explosive Middle East, though, should lead Biden, if elected, to bite his lower lip and stand with Israel against Iran when the inevitable northern war from Syria and Lebanon under the direction of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s direction occurs.

The writer is the director of MEPIN (Middle East Political Information Network). He regularly briefs members of Congress and their foreign policy aides, as well White House advisers. He is the senior security editor for the Jerusalem Report/Jerusalem Post, and writes for The Hill, JNS, JTA, RealClearWorld, and Defense News.

The case for the status quo in Judea and Samaria

{Previously published in the Jerusalem Post}

Supporters of extending Israeli sovereignty to 30% of the West Bank claim this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to permanently create defensible borders and strategic depth with the blessing of an American administration. Like the Israeli Stockade and Watchtower settlements of the pre-State era that rose in a single night to create facts on the ground for future defensible borders, today’s annexation advocates believe that once built, the project cannot be undone. Maybe yes, or maybe no.

With polls showing former vice president Joe Biden in the lead in key electoral swing states that Trump needs to be re-elected, Middle East watchers have now begun to speculate on what a Biden presidency and a Democratic Senate might do in 2021, if Israel extends sovereignty to portions of the West Bank.

Would the result be American sanctions, a reduction of security cooperation, or decreased funding, to be used as leverage to change Israel’s position? Progressive critics of Israel including J Street will tell the president that it is for their own good to punish Israel, and that America must advocate for Palestinians as the victimized party. According to The Jerusalem Post’s Herb Keinon, during the presidential debates, Biden said that the US has to “put pressure constantly” on Israel to move toward a two-state solution.

For perspective, Israel was never supposed to withdraw to indefensible lines that existed before the Six Day War. People forget that the goal in 1967 was meant by the Arabs to be a war of annihilation, a second Holocaust. Today that history falls on deaf ears, as Israel is simply seen by many as an occupying colonialist power that must accept an indefensible line as its permanent border.

Most people have no idea that the authors of UNSC Resolution 242, written after 1967, which was the basis for all peace initiatives, acknowledged that lines were to be redrawn so that Israel could live in security. What constitutes secure borders or strategic depth today is most definitely not a return to the lines of 1967.

If Israel extends sovereignty to the Jordan River Valley and major settlement blocs, the uproar will be great. The question is not whether Israel needs the Jordan River Valley for its ultimate security – it almost assuredly does – the question is rather, is this the most opportune time to do it? Security analysts know that Jordan may not be long for this world and Iran could be the big winner, effectively controlling Jordan as it more or less controls Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq today.

AS FOR the semantics between the terms “extending sovereignty” vs “annexation,” you cannot annex something that you have rights to based on an equally legitimate reading of international law that views the territory as disputed, because the last legal stakeholder was the now-defunct Ottoman Empire. Whether it is wise at this time for Israel to extend sovereignty is a different question.

AIPAC used to fight for any position the democratically elected government of Israel advocated whether from the Left or Right, but has now read the tea leaves and has given its blessing to those who want to criticize Israel for any annexation, even of the large settlement blocs that were part of land swaps in every previous peace offer. Political expediency trumps conscience for Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer as he too has read those tea leaves and has refused to endorse his long-term pro-Israel colleague House Foreign affairs Chairmen Elliot Engle, who is in the fight for his political life against an opponent endorsed by AOC’s Justice Democrats.

Fast forward to a United Nations deliberation on Israel next year. What will President Biden and Vice President Susan Rice charge the US ambassador to the UN to say when the inevitable international condemnations against Israel begin, if it extends sovereignty to even to just the large blocs? Biden and Rice were actively involved when the Obama administration orchestrated the passage of UNSC Resolution 2334 in 2016 that labeled Israeli possession of a millimeter of territory over the 1967 line a war crime.

Which brings us back to whether it is wise for Israel to extend any sovereignty this summer?

The unsatisfying but prudent answer is that the status quo is the better strategy at this time. It’s up to Israel to determine its own fate, but American supporters of Israel have the obligation to share with their brethren the potential ramifications. The extension of sovereignty will weaken Israel’s security status because of a rupture in relations with America. A more prudent approach for those who want to extend sovereignty would be to see if Mr. Trump is re-elected and the Senate remains in Republican hands.

The Middle East is tense and unpredictable under normal conditions. The current economic crisis and political instability due to the pandemic has made the region a tinderbox. There is no need to ignite the US-Israel relations at this time. Israel still has all of its options in the future, while maintaining the current strategic depth and working relationship with the PA’s security that the status quo would maintain. Pragmatism isn’t pretty, but violence and diplomatic isolation are worse.

Timing is everything. The best choice is no annexation now, while revisiting the possibility in the future if events change.

The writer is the director of MEPIN (Middle East Political Information Network). He regularly briefs members of Congress and their foreign policy aides, as well White House advisers. He is the senior security editor for the Jerusalem Report/Jerusalem Post, and writes for The Hill, JNS, JTA, RealClearWorld, and Defense News.