Category Archives: American and Israeli Democracy

It’s the ‘hasbara,’ stupid: The new Israeli government must prioritize PR

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett holds a
news conference in Jerusalem on July 14, source: Marc Israel Sellem

Published in the August 19, 2021 issue of The Jerusalem Report.

Israel has a national security blind spot. It is called effective public relations or, in Hebrew, hasbara. Israel does it really badly. I say this as an American who listens to other Americans, American politicians and the American media. American politicians who support Israel have confided their utter frustration with the lack of Israel’s public relations savoir-faire. It makes advocating for the US-Israel relationship much harder, especially against a coordinated anti-Israel apparatus that speaks on message and has mastered social media.

Israel’s enemies know that they cannot defeat the Jewish state militarily, so they have turned to influence the public with a straightforward one-sided narrative that plays fast and loose with facts and context. Taking control of the narrative of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is happening right now, and Israel’s enemies are winning. A recent poll by the Jewish Electorate Institute revealed that 38% of American Jews under 40 think Israel is an apartheid state, 33% think it is committing genocide against the Palestinian people and 20% think Israel doesn’t have a right to exist!

The first thing Israel needs to do is to acknowledge the problem and admit the image has been handled poorly. Then it needs to raise public relations importance to the level of a national security priority of the first order. Without a coordinated public relations strategy with the financial resources to make a difference, Israel’s ability to educate and influence the American public with its compelling case will continually be undermined. Winning this is essential not only for Israel. America needs a strong Israel as it pivots its efforts to the Far East to confront China.

But just reacting to propaganda attacks, being on the defensive is a guaranteed losing hand for Israeli hasbara. The mantra for Israeli public relations is to go on the offensive continually. Use personal narratives to illustrate Israel’s human tragedies because of Palestinian terrorism, inspired by blatant Jew-hatred thinly veiled behind anti-Zionism. An example of what it means to go on the offensive against the false charge of Israeli apartheid would be to publicize the Palestinian law that forbids selling land to Jews, a much more appropriate analogy to South African apartheid.

As a BESA public paper said, “The systemic failure of Israeli public diplomacy is a longstanding open secret. Because the country’s diplomatic bodies are dispersed among an assortment of ministerial and security frameworks, it is highly unlikely that the system as a whole will ever be strengthened and revitalized… a formula to establish a central and synchronized public diplomacy body has not yet been found. It appears that Israel has still not internalized the full value of either dynamic public diplomacy or sophisticated psychological warfare.”

Things may be changing. Israel’s new government brought not only a new prime minister and foreign minister but ended the 12-year reign of Benjamin Netanyahu, who downgraded the foreign service budget, and
with it, a potent tool to improve its public diplomacy and get it’s narrative a fairer hearing. Bibi thought he did hasbara better than anyone, and perhaps he did. But relying on one person for effective PR, especially one so divisive in America, was a self-inflicted wound, especially with so many English-speaking orators who could have amplified his message. According to Gary Rosenblatt, the former editor and publisher of Jewish Week, Netanyahu was incomprehensibly rude to American Jewish journalists, antagonizing pro-Israel friends and writers. Bennett is fluent in English, the son of American immigrants, so he should not be shy about being out front in the PR wars.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid seems to get it, too. In a news conference at the Foreign Ministry on July 25, Lapid lamented that failed Israeli PR is partially to blame for the current peak in antisemitism and Israel-bashing. “The State of Israel is in trouble,” Lapid said, adding that “the time has come to tell Israel’s story differently.”

He said the Strategic Affairs Ministry had been folded into the Foreign Ministry in an effort to concentrate and improve Israel’s PR, and the ministry’s budget was being boosted significantly. “Restoring the status of the Foreign Ministry is a goal that both I and Prime Minister Bennett share.”

In Lapid’s words, “in the past years, Israel has abandoned its foreign service, abandoned the international arena, and then we woke up one morning to find that our international standing has been weakened. The management of the relationship with the Democratic Party in the United States was careless and dangerous. The Republicans are important to us; their friendship is important to us, but not only the friendship of the Republican Party. We find ourselves with a Democratic White House, Senate, and House, and they are angry. We need to change the way we work with them.”

This will be an uphill battle with the rise of the anti-Israel progressive wing. Hopefully, Lapid’s perception as a moderate may give the cowered mainstream pro-Israel Democrats like US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer some courage to speak up.

Will this government, like almost all before it, relegate the issue of Israel’s public relations at both times of war and peace to second or third-tier priorities? The damage done by Israel’s mixed messaging during the most recent Gaza war may have created a tipping point against Israel in America and Congress, with the anti-Israel pro-Palestinian voice moving to center stage.

For the first time, too many pro-Israel Democrats remained on the sidelines, not openly defending Israel during Operation Guardian of the Walls. They allowed a moral equivalence narrative to take hold, doing a wholly inadequate job of defending Israel from the malicious charge of indiscriminate attacks on Palestinian civilians or explaining the importance Israel plays in advancing American national security interests. Democrats told me that Israel’s PR was abysmal, making them less willing to take the risk of supporting Israel. There was also the legitimate fear from the ascendant anti-Israel members of their party that if they defended Israel, they could endanger their re-election.

Israel’s governing coalition of just 61 MKs hangs by a thread and has so much on its plate. It is tasked with advancing the nation’s interests at home and abroad while not losing even a single vote of a member along the way. Their first priority is to pass a two-year budget so the nation can finally plan for the future and create some stability. Making the case to prioritize PR will be a hard sell.

The Palestinians and their supporters speak with one message of victim and victimizer, occupier and occupied, that resonates in an American nation that is increasingly ignorant of the history of the Middle East. Out of context heart-wrenching narratives followed by charges of apartheid and war crimes are given unrefuted coverage. Especially when they come from progressive Jewish organizations like J Street that seem more pro-Palestinian than their self-designation as pro-Israel, pro-peace. Photos of children killed in war are reflexively blamed on Israel, even when it’s from a misfired Hamas rocket shot from a Palestinian civilian area. Israeli spokespeople have done a poor job publicizing the cynical use of Arab children as human shields.

Israel’s best English-language spokesperson, Netanyahu, was too involved in managing the war and chose not to deputize articulate English-speakers to go on the air and write columns throughout the US. The playing field was left almost entirely in the court of the anti-Zionists. Yes, it is an uphill fight, but its management has been a failure for decades. The inability to get all branches of government on the same message is not just poor public relations but a national security nightmare that is ignored at the nation’s peril. America needs Israel to do a better job, as it is in its interest for Israel to be strong and not become a pariah in the US.

An indication of the dysfunctional Israeli PR was the recent closure of its Strategic Affairs Ministry, transferring its mission to the underfunded Foreign Ministry. Outgoing director-general Tzahi Gavriel’s job was to brand Israel positively and fight the growing BDS movement. He told Lahav Harkov of The Jerusalem Post, “If we go back to a situation where this important issue is scattered between different ministries, we’ll deteriorate. This is about Israel as a brand. PR and hasbara were not enough anymore. We needed technology, data, a civil society engine, and digital assets. We needed infrastructure and a coordinated plan.”

Since the beginning of the Second Intifada, American supporters of Israel have been banging their heads against the walls of the Knesset and Prime Minister’s Office, trying to alert the Israeli government that it is losing the battle for the court of public opinion. The victim/victimizer approach advanced by mainstream media sympathetic to the underdog Palestinian cause could have been better managed. But getting the Israeli government to realize this as a national security priority fell on deaf ears repeatedly.

Often I heard from Israeli officials that they know what they were doing. Other times I heard that it doesn’t make a difference, and we have given up trying to convince an international community or mainstream media of Israel’s case. Arrogance and surrender is not a strategy. Especially for a country forging new relations from the Far East, the Asian subcontinent, and the Arab world. Not adequately prioritizing its public relations with its most important friend, ally, and benefactor, the United States, is just a self-inflicted wound. Israel is losing the American public.

Israel’s ability to prosecute the inevitable next war in the north or south may be limited by poor public relations. Suppose the American public is not convinced of Israel’s case during a war. In that case, the president and Congress will be less willing to give Israel leeway to continue fighting, forcing a premature ceasefire before Israel accomplishes its military goals. That alone could bring the following war sooner rather than later.

Going forward, what should the new government do regarding public diplomacy? Let’s start with a well-funded initiative to prioritize public relations in the English-speaking world. Here is a perfect example. Instead of marching out an older male Israeli spokesman speaking English in harsh accented Hebrew, Israel puts its best foot forward with a young female person of color with perfect English. The pro-Palestinian world has been using young relatable English speakers for years. You would never know that these Palestinian apologists represent a misogynistic, homophobic, authoritarian regime that wants to end Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish nation. Their weapons are the words of the intersectional Left of America, using their own set of facts and narratives to elicit an emotional response. That is the winning hand in this PR war.

What is needed is an entirely new and well-financed Israeli-based English training media center. Its goal would be to train Israel’s diplomats, politicians, ministers, spokespeople of government ministries, military, police force, civil society leaders and key Israeli influencers in practical communication skills to boost Israel’s image. If created in partnership between government and private donors, like Birthright, it could forge a path toward public relations effectiveness.

The media center would include practical training for TV, print, radio and social media. This would cover everything from learning how to develop talking points, writing op-eds and learning how to avoid getting trapped by questions of an interviewer hostile to Israel. Learning to be effective in social media platforms used in English is an absolute must. A real media studio with a mock TV and radio studio would allow those trained to feel comfortable in front of the camera. And yes, every politician, diplomat and person qualified for the English-speaking world would need to consider him or herself a student, requiring humility to improve.

The return of ‘Zionism is Racism’

Source: http://unitedwithisrael.org/

Published in The Jerusalem Report on July 12, 2021.

In 1975, the UN General Assembly passed Resolution 3379, which “determine[d] that Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination.” US ambassador to the UN Daniel Patrick Moynihan warned that “The United Nations is about to make antisemitism international law.” He said the United States “does not acknowledge, it will not abide by, it will never acquiesce in this infamous act… A great evil has been loosed upon the world.”

Yet the accusation of “Zionism is racism” is alive and well in America in 2021. The infamous 1975 UN Resolution that was rescinded in name only in the 1990s made its official return in 2001 at the Durban World Conference of Racism. As the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs stated, the conference “became a forum for racism. Human rights were used… as a weapon of political interests… A large group of states sought to… exclude references to the Holocaust, redefine or ignore antisemitism, and isolate the state of Israel from the global community as a racist practitioner of apartheid and crimes against humanity.”


Today its message animates much of American academia and the progressive world in all its antisemitic permutations. In the anti-Zionist Middle East, from Iran to Turkey to Hamas, with the notable new exceptions of nations who have signed the Abraham Accords, Zionism is Racism is a fact, just as the sky is blue. Just visit Jordan and Egypt, where the Protocols of the Elders of Zion are prominently displayed, despite both having formal peace treaties with Israel.

Calling someone a Zionist is an epithet for a Jew. In the Middle East, a Jew is ashorthand for Israeli. Israelis and supporters of Israel are Zionists. Zionism is Apartheid, and to be a Zionist means you are racist. Just visit any American college campus during the annual Jew-hating apartheid week in the spring semester. As American historian Gil Troy explained, “The Zionist settler in Palestine was transformed… into an analogue of white settlers in Africa… Palestinian propagandists were resurrecting parts of Nazi ideology… negating Jewish nationalism and peoplehood.” In other words, Zionism is racism – which means antisemitism.

Connecting Zionism to apartheid to racism was clearly articulated by Palestinian-American Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib saying, Israel is “promoting racism and dehumanization” under an “apartheid system.”

Her fellow anti-Zionist Rep. Ilhan Omar not only calls Israel an “apartheid government” but accuses it of “terrorism” while ignoring the targeting of Jewish civilians by a US government-designated terrorist organization. The “Squad” leader, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, accused Israel not only of apartheid but of indiscriminately targeting Palestinian civilians. Even UNRWA’s Gaza director Matthias Schmale said the Israeli military struck targets with “sophistication” and “precision.” That was until Palestinians and their international supporters demanded that he retract the facts. The first casualty of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has always been the truth.

This is not legitimate criticism of Israel. This is antisemitism, according to the IHRA definition, used by the US State Department and scores of nations. In America, you may have the right to be an antisemite, but let’s call it what it is. It is Jew hatred that incites violence, and equating Zionism with racism is unvarnished antisemitism.

The dramatic increase in antisemitic hate crimes in the wake of the last Gaza war has been met with a deafening silence by progressive academics and organizations in defending Jews against hate crimes. Academics’ propensity for a morally flawed cultural relativism that excuses the antisemitism of Israel’s enemies while advancing a perverted rationale that Zionism is a racistideology must be exposed for what it is and then rejected. It is the witch’s brew that has brainwashed two generations of naïve American college students who are now in positions of authority.

The litmus test to know if this is antisemitic oversensitivity or a double standard against Jews and Israel is to replace the Jewish victim with a person of color and the nation of Israel with the American use of force against ISIS and other asymmetric enemies that hide behind their civilian population. The answer is both frightening as well as illuminating. From CNN to the New York Times to NPR, there would be an outrage against similar attacks against minority groups that would be headline-grabbing for days on end. Yet, according to FBI statistics, Jewish hate crimes have continued to increase over the last 25 years (last reported for the year 2019), while those against African-Americans have decreased. Some victims are more favored than others. As for Israel, no nation has been more meticulous in avoiding civilian casualties. The amount of negative coverage Israel receives rightly or wrongly dramatically exceeds that of other democratic countries fighting terrorists.

The rise of antisemitism in the guise of politically correct anti-Zionism would not happen if a growing segment of progressives and the mainstream media did not believe Zionism is racism, akin to American white racist discrimination. The Israeli is a white Jewish supremacist. The Palestinian is an afflicted victim of color. Zionism is therefore racist. Yet, the majority of Israeli Jews fit the criteria of people of color. This is an inconvenient fact ignored by the progressive Left. It must be pointed out that there is hope. There is an outstanding progressive representative who is a strong defender of Jews and Israel, Richie Torres. He needs to be a model for others and be supported when the AOC gang eventually intimidates him.

Unfortunately, many Gen Z members and millennials have bought into a dogma that Israel is a pariah state, and to be a Zionist is to be a racist. Mainstream media have given fringe groups like Jewish Voice for Peace legitimization to propagate a hate-filled message about Israel under supposed Jewish values. Zionism is incompatible with decency in the church of “social justice wokeism.” Fellow progressive travelers may not realize they are abetting antisemitism because their leaders have reformulated antisemitism to align with the contemporary social justice movement.

Jewish progressives see Israel and Palestinians as they see the plight of African Americans. The parallel is inappropriate, but ideological movements never let this get in the way of manipulating people. The emotional temperature in the wake of the BLM movement first allowed them to claim that American police brutality is a consequence of Israeli training of American police. Even before the women’s march of January 2017, liberal Zionists were told that no matter how “woke” you are, if you support Israel, you are persona non grata. You, too, are an oppressor and racist, and you are not welcome.

Once the riots of the summer of 2020 began, more false claims were easier to make. The years of apartheid walls, screaming down pro-Israel speakers on college campuses without any consequence, the intimidation of pro-Israel professors, and the fear Jewish students have of speaking up for Israel without being intimidated have brought us to where we are today. A few years ago, I was invited by a student to speak at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. A short time later, she called to apologize, telling me that she had to disinvite me or she would lose at least half of her friends because my viewpoint would not be welcome. Welcome to cancel culture.

I watched the return of Zionism is racism when I visited Vassar College with a young liberal Israeli speaker. Students for Justice in Palestine disrupted his talk, and when he asked them just to sit down and have a candid discussion, they refused and continued their disruption. Afterward, the students from J Street on campus told me that they were stigmatized as Zionists because they believed Israel had a right to exist, even though they were highly critical of Israeli policies. They said they were considered the most right-wing group on campus. Today that is closer to the norm than an aberration on too many campuses. Two years ago, I was disinvited from giving a speech at a majority black university after the dean read my address praising MLK and his support of Zionism.

Even though the original UNGA Resolution on Zionism was rescinded, the world never stopped equating Zionism with racism. The best proof is the infamous Durban conference, which was a hate fest of Jews and Zionism. Let’s look at what the original resolution said.
The determination that Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination was based on:

• The unholy alliance between South African racism and Zionism

• The racist regime in occupied Palestine and the racist regimes in Zimbabwe and South Africa have a common imperialist origin… organically linked in their policy aimed at the repression of the dignity and integrity of the human being,”

• Most severely condemned Zionism as a threat to world peace and security and called upon all countries to oppose this racist and imperialist ideology.

• The principle that “international co-operation and peace require… the elimination of colonialism and neo-colonialism, foreign occupation, Zionism, Apartheid.”

Does anyone think this resolution would not garner a significant majority of votes in the UN today, or a substantial number of the progressive caucus and the rest of the anti-Israel gallery of activists? Their words and hate resonate with young idealistic progressives who know little of history. What makes this intolerance so galling is that progressives claim to be open-minded but, in reality, are the most illiberal members of Congress, disrespecting differing points of view.

This May, I spoke to a Democratic Senate office that told me the Human Rights Watch’s designation of Israel as an apartheid state had caused real damage with Democrats. I was told defending Israel in the wake of the Gaza war was too politically dangerous, especially with the rise of the progressives who would work to defeat moderates in the next election.

A letter signed by hundreds of faculty, students, and alumni at Princeton University said, “We stand by HRW… in calling Israel’s systemic discrimination and violence by its proper name: Apartheid. The brutal system that controls Israel and the occupied Palestinian Territories is ideologically founded upon Jewish supremacy.”

SPME, a network of university scholars whose mission is to fight the falsehoods of pro-Palestinian advocates, pointed out the Daily Princetonian article was “filled with empirically false or grotesquely exaggerated assertions, a profound lack of empathy for Israelis and Jewish lives and safety… Israel is a colonial, illegal occupier of Arab land. (This) an occupation that includes land grabs, state-sponsored terror, militarism, and random and sadistic violence against an indigenous population.”

A driving force to legitimize the narrative that Zionism is Racism is to view the world through the prism of Intersectionality. All victimized people need to stand together because all our causes are intertwined. Black Lives Matter, Palestinian Lives Matter. Even liberal Jews are suspect because, in this Orwellian nightmare, American Jews are white, privileged, and racist even if they don’t know it.

What could slow it down, but is unlikely to happen, would be a vociferous counterattack by pro-Israel liberal Democrats. Instead, we are getting the usual bromides about Israel having a right to defend itself, but silence in supporting and defending Zionism and Israel’s vital role in supporting US interests in that part of the world.

What makes this a tipping point is the silence of pro-Israel Democrats in Congress and the mainstreaming of new anti-Zionists such as Peter Beinart, who is still described as a liberal Zionist. How can you be a Zionist if you want a binational state to end a Jewish state because it offends your progressive sensibilities?

An excellent place to begin is to continue to lobby every organization, university, and nation to understand why adopting the IHRA definition of antisemitism is essential to combat antisemitism. If you cannot define it, you cannot fight it. If you challenge the Jewish people’s right to a national homeland and Israel’s right to exist, you are in effect practicing antisemitism. The Zionism is Racism crowd is fighting this definition tooth and nail, in the name of free speech. If you wanted to gauge American society, ask yourself, how many members of Congress would vote against using this definition for antisemitism?

Zionism was never racism, and forcefully defending and implementing the IHRA definition is a good place to begin.

How ‘constructive ambiguity’ has failed Israelis and Palestinians

Source: Getty

Well-meaning American negotiators over the years have done a disservice to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. To try to bridge the perhaps insurmountable gulf between the warring parties, diplomats have employed Henry Kissinger’s diplomatic tool of “constructive ambiguity” to obscure the profound ideological divides. This is not just the old adage, “I gave it the old college try but failed.” The consequences of failed negotiations and unfulfilled expectations using ambiguous language “to disguise an inability to resolve a contentious issue” can lead directly to bombs exploding on Israeli buses and an atmosphere of mistrust that moves the parties even further apart. 


Read the rest from The Hill.

Israel vs anti-Israel advocacy journalism

Advocacy journalism can inspire Israel to take the initiative and control its own destiny, as it lives in a woke world where its right to exist is fair game, and violence against Jews is excused.

Published in the Jerusalem Post.

PALESTINIANS DEMONSTRATE outside Damascus Gate in Jerusalem.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

I read the New York Times lead story this weekend, “Life Under Occupation: The Misery at the Heart of the Conflict,” as a justification for this Gaza war and militant violence. Personal stories to pull at your heartstrings are the strategy of pro-Palestinian organizations and the Times.

“Mr. Abu Alia seethed as he described seeing his son outside in the dark, ‘afraid, crying because of the soldiers, and I can do nothing to protect him. It makes you want to take revenge…. But we have nothing to defend ourselves with. Stone-throwing must suffice. We can’t take an M-16 and go kill every settler. All we have are those stones. A bullet can kill you instantly. A little stone won’t do much. But at least I’m sending a message.’”

A few years ago, I debated a J Street representative at the Columbia Graduate School of International Affairs. After my presentation, which presented the conflict in all of its complexities, the J Street representative said, I cannot argue with any of Dr. Mandel’s facts, but let me tell you about… He then went on to tell a litany of personal stories of suffering.

I believe I lost that debate because I did not pull at the audience’s heartstrings, purposely manipulating people’s emotions so they could avoid the more challenging task of evaluating the merits of each debater’s arguments.

I should have spoken about the equally compelling tragic stories of Israeli children and residents of Israel’s South who live continually with traumatic stress. One psychologist in Sderot told me 80% of the residents suffer not from PTSD but rather from continual traumatic stress.

As in the case of my J Street debater, what was left out of the Times news article was any context. There is a word for one-sided news articles. It is called advocacy journalism, meant to convince the reader of the writer’s opinion. Personal narratives are there to make you sympathize with one side or the other. What was most egregious in the article and in that debate was the complete lack of context.

Israel left 100% of Gaza 16 years ago, and Gaza could be flourishing today like Dubai, in Palestinian-controlled territory. Instead, Hamas has committed innumerable war crimes, sending thousands of rockets into Israeli civilian areas while using Gaza residents’ children as human shields.

The only reason Israel controls the Gaza borders is that if it did not, there would be an unrelenting resupply of Iranian missiles and weapons, killing and maiming thousands of Jewish civilians. Excuse Israel for doing the No. 1 thing a nation should do – protect its civilians so they are not living with fear every hour of every day.

The author seemed to have amnesia, leaving out that the occupation of the disputed territory could have ended numerous times over the last 72 years if the Palestinians had accepted a Palestinian state living next to a Jewish state. They refused that in 1937, 1947, 1967, 2000, 2001, and 2008. That is because Palestinian Arab leadership prioritizes destroying a Jewish state more than it wants a Palestinian state. Something you won’t read in a J Street press release. An ADL survey showed that the Palestinian people has the highest ranking for antisemitism in the whole world, at 93%. This was not a poll of anti-Israel bias but blatant stereotypical Jew-hatred.

The pretext for this war, according to the article, was the decades-long court case involving a few families in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. The article chose not to mention that Jews have owned the homes since the 19th century, and the tenants have been offered to remain in their homes if they pay rent.

Palestinian supporters have chosen select facts to advance their charge of ethnic cleansing and Judaization of Jerusalem. On a political level, it would have been better for Israel to have ignored this dispute, allowing the Arab residents to stay and having Israel compensate the owners. But Israel is a democracy with the rule of law and courts for real estate disputes.

Perhaps it is time for Israel to realize that the world and a growing part of the Democratic Party will never see Israel as anything but an occupier. Maybe the unrelenting double standard against Israel should be seen as an opportunity for Israel to choose its security borders and not wait for the Palestinians. Heck, nobody thought the Abraham Accords would ever happen. This certainly would upset many people. But considering decades of Palestinian rejection of their own state because they would have to sign an end-of-conflict resolution, accept a demilitarized Palestinian state and end the demand for a right of return, maybe the time has come for Israel to set a new path.

Advocacy journalism can inspire Israel to take the initiative and control its own destiny, as it lives in a woke world where its right to exist is fair game, and violence against Jews is excused as a natural reaction to occupation.

So here are some proposals to get people’s blood pressure to boil.

1. Israel unilaterally defines its borders based on security considerations

2. No further Jewish building in the areas designated for a future Palestinian-controlled territory.

3. Jewish growth is confined to the settlement blocs or settlements essential for security considerations.

4. Continued Israeli security control of the designated future Palestinian territory until the Palestinians can unreservedly sign an end-of-conflict agreement and recognize a Jewish state next to an Arab one. That could take generations, if not longer.

5. Consider drawing the lines of a future Palestinian state that would incorporate areas within pre-1967 Israel with an Arab population. If Arab citizens of Israel want to keep their Israeli citizenship, they may need to move to Israel or remain Israeli citizens living under the Palestinian Authority.

6. Redefining Jerusalem’s artificially created borders to designate overwhelmingly Arab Muslim areas of Jerusalem for a future Palestinian entity, thereby demographically moving hundreds of thousands of Arabs from the census of Israel, if and when Palestinians decide to live in peace with a Jewish state. All Jewish holy sites and neighborhoods remain under Israeli control.

7. Tangible consequences when Hamas sends rockets into Israeli civilian areas.

Mind you, this is all to stimulate debate. None of this would satisfy the international community, the Times, the Biden administration, or for that matter many Israelis, like my fellow columnist Caroline Glick. But it is food for thought.

The Times writers believe Israel is an apartheid state and want Israel to become a binational state – in other words, the demographic destruction of a postcolonial aberration of Jewish racism.

So is it the time for Israelis to consider taking their future into their own hands, offering an olive branch to future Palestinians, that a Palestinian state could be theirs for the asking?

The status quo may be the safest choice for Israel to avoid sanctions from the Biden administration, the EU and the UN. However, now is the time for Israelis to have a serious internal debate about the future, to move forward without waiting for the Palestinian leopard to change its spots.

This war was more about sabotaging the emerging Israeli-Gulf relationship and preventing an Islamist Israeli-Arab party from joining an Israeli government, than it was about a few homes in Sheikh Jarrah. But admitting that would undermine the thesis of advocacy journalists.

America’s exit from the Middle East – analysis

U.S. Army paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division prepares before departure to Middle East
(photo credit: JONATHAN DRAKE / REUTERS)

Published in The Jerusalem Post.

Walter Meed Russell, writing in The Wall Street Journal, sees the glass of America’s 20-year presence in the Middle East as half full. He believes we bolstered our interests, if not advancing democracy abroad. One of the most important accomplishments that we take for granted is that our presence has prevented any “major new international terrorist attacks” on American soil over the last two decades. In addition, he points out the unprecedented accomplishment of the Abraham Accords where today “neighboring Arab states now consider Israel an ally to be cultivated” instead of a pariah to be annihilated. 

But are these gains sustainable without a continued American presence in the region? What will be the consequences without an American security blanket? 

The American withdrawal from the region, promised by US presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump, now has a September target date in Afghanistan. In Iraq and Syria, the US presence is also on life support. The long-anticipated departure from the Middle East will end a fragile status quo for all the players in the region. 


The Sunni states, which have counted on the US as a final level of defense, are in uncharted territory. America is not only leaving the region but as a parting gift is returning to the Iran nuclear agreement, which will provide Iran with tens of billions of dollars in sanctions relief. The Sunni states know this will encourage Iran to test the waters of how far it can push its influence before it suffers any repercussions. Consequently, all of the region’s nation-states are recalibrating their strategies and contemplating new alliances for their survival, even with their current enemy Iran.

So when Saudi Intelligence Chief Khalid al-Humaidan secretly met with Saeed Iravani, Iran’s deputy secretary of its Supreme National Security Council, it represented a possible tipping point between the Islamic world’s bitterest of rivals as a direct result of America’s retreat from the region. Kirsten Fontenrose of the Atlantic Council offered a positive spin, advancing the possibility of an Ishmael Track (Sunni-Shi’ite) between the bitter rivals to pursue détente. Pushing America’s longtime Saudi ally into the arms of the region’s most dangerous actor only serves Russian, Chinese and Iranian interests. 

The most dangerous consequence of the American turn from the region will be the nuclear arms race left in its wake. The Sunni world will play catch-up, knowing they or anyone else cannot count on UN nuclear inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency who are not permitted to visit clandestine Iranian nuclear sites, the very places weaponization is likely to occur. If Iran continues to enrich uranium, develops more precise ballistic and cruise missiles and achieves the compartmentalization of a nuclear warhead, a nuclear Middle East is inevitable. The Saudis, Egyptians and the Emiratis will join the race for their own nuclear bomb as a counterweight to Iran’s adventurism and intimidation. The Saudis have already contracted with Pakistan for nuclear technology and possibly a completed weapon.

So what happens when the US leaves the Middle East? Here are 10 possible outcomes that American politicians, the military and intelligence services will have to grapple with in the coming years. 

1. Islamist terrorism will find both new and old havens from which to plot mayhem against the US and Israel.
2. Iran will increase its military activity at the region’s two strategic choke-hold points at the Straits of Hormuz and Bab el Mandeb, threatening international shipping lanes.
3. With America’s retreat, allies worldwide will know that American security commitments can be expected to have expiration dates.
4. Iran, Russia and China will be the new superpowers of the Middle East.
5. Israel will be more isolated if Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states move toward Iran out of desperation. Still, Israel hopes they decide to continue normalization (Abraham Accords), seeing them as the better choice of ally.
6. Iran will feel less inhibited in risk-taking, knowing the US will not want to challenge the Islamic regime, lest it withdraw from the nuclear agreement.
7. Iran will set its sights on Jordan, the next domino to fall, after Iraq and Lebanon, under Iranian influence.
8. The Taliban will retake Afghanistan, making all the gains achieved for women and minorities disappear instantly.
9. The chance for regional conflicts will grow.
10. Nuclear proliferation will arrive sooner or later in the Sunni world, to nobody’s benefit. 

Are any of these outcomes in America’s national security interest? Will America be forced to return to the region as it did after Obama’s hasty retreat from Iraq in 2011, but under less favorable conditions? As former Israeli ambassador Michael Oren told Yaroslav Trofimov of the Journal in October 2019, “If you think the United States as a global power can pull out of the Middle East and not endanger itself, you are deluding yourselves.” 

How the Saudis can fast-track a nuclear-weapons program

If I were them—and with Iran in mind—I would conclude that all the misbehavior that the Biden administration wants to punish me for would evaporate if I only had a nuclear-weapons program that I could use as leverage to extract whatever concessions I wish.

Previously published by JNS.

While the Biden administration offers sanctions relief to Tehran in exchange for temporarily limiting uranium enrichment to less than 20 percent, it is fulfilling another promise, to “recalibrate”—i.e., punish—longtime American ally Saudi Arabia. As the Saudis sustain Iranian-directed missile and drone attacks from Yemen and Iraq, the Biden administration chose to remove Patriot missile batteries from Saudi Arabia, as well as redeploy an aircraft carrier and surveillance systems away from the region. The clear message to Iran is: We will abandon our ally Saudi Arabia, your arch-enemy, if you will only rejoin the 2015 nuclear deal.

If I were the Saudis, I would conclude that all the misbehavior that the Biden administration wants to punish me for would evaporate if I only had a nuclear-weapons program that I could use as leverage to extract whatever concessions I wish from the Americans. I could do like the Iranians—threaten, intimidate and take over neighboring states—and be absolved if I would just slow down my nuclear-development program.

The Saudis might open their Rolodex and call Pakistan. According to the BBC, in 2013, “a senior NATO decision-maker … had seen intelligence reporting that nuclear weapons made in Pakistan on behalf of Saudi Arabia are now sitting ready for delivery.” This is the logical conclusion. The way we are headed, the Biden administration is about to start a nuclear arms race in the region with Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, among others learning the lessons of the Iranian nuclear agreement. The formula is to develop a secret nuclear program, lie about it, engage in disruptive behavior and then trade some of that for a nuclear deal in your favor or foreign aid.

Saudi Arabia is no angel. The stain of the Sept. 11 terror attacks and the country’s exporting radical Sunni Islamist ideology in the late 20th century has ramifications that we live with to this day. ISIS was the worst permutation yet of radical Sunni ideology. But after 9/11, the Saudis turned a page and began to align more closely with American interests. In the 21st century, they have been a moderating and stabilizing force in Sunni Islam.

Their support of the Abraham Accords, which allowed the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco to recognize Israel with diplomatic relations, is groundbreaking. Previous administrations did not even contemplate its possibility. If nurtured for regional stability, it is a path to suppress the Saudi need for a nuclear-weapons program. It also ended the fiction that the Israeli-Arab conflict needs to wait until the Israeli-Palestinian conflict ends. That is excellent news for those who believe Palestinian intransigence has been the roadblock to peace.

Instead of building on the game-changing Abraham Accords and pulling Saudi Arabia to the finish line by recognizing Israel, the Biden administration has chosen to make the Saudis a pariah, while begging the Iranian revolutionary regime to return to a deal that was created in their favor. As a reminder, it was created to give Iran international legitimacy for an industrial-size nuclear program within the decade. Stipulated within the nuclear agreement is Iran’s ability to buy an unlimited number of conventional weapons right now. No wonder that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei allowed his minions to sign it.

Like the Obama team, the Biden administration still believes that you can appease Iran by acquiescing in their nuclear blackmail. Obama’s policy was to distance the United States from its Gulf state allies and Israel while ingratiating his administration with the Iranians, who have never ceased undermining U.S. security interests worldwide. The only good to come out of this mistaken policy is the increased willingness of the Saudis and others in the region to be friendlier to Israel as the only nation willing to take on the Iranians. This has been especially evident as Israel continues to impede Iran’s progress towards a nuclear weapon, most recently with its alleged attack this week on the Natanz enrichment facility.

Kowtowing to a third-rate military that supports terror sends a poor message to American allies around the world. The administration seems intent on settling for merely slowing down Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons while ignoring and, in effect, funding with sanctions relief the Islamic Republic’s decades-long worldwide campaign of terrorism. The false hope offered to the American people that the administration will be able to negotiate a new agreement dealing with Tehran’s malign activities after the resumption of a deal would be laughable if it were not so dangerous.

Hopefully, the administration will reflect on the potential consequences of its actions and change course to avoid turning the Middle East into a nuclear Wild West. The Saudis and the rest of the Sunni Muslim world are watching.

Sorry professors, but BDS and double standards for Israel are anti-Semitism

Where are their voices for freedom of speech when their pro-Israel students and their speakers are screamed down in the name of racism, apartheid and colonialism?

The growing acceptance of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism by scores of nations, including the European Union, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres and our own country, have made critics of Israel apoplectic. This is because the IHRA asserts that many forms of anti-Zionism rise to the threshold of anti-Semitism. This has driven both anti-Zionists and harsh critics of Israel to find ways to undermine the legitimacy of IHRA. The most recent attempt is to create new definitions of anti-Semitism that minimize or eliminate any association between anti-Semitism and delegitimizing Israel’s existence.

Recently, a group of 200 university professors has taken up the mantle against the IHRA with their Jerusalem Declaration of Anti-Semitism (JDA). It states that opposing Zionism or Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state doesn’t necessarily constitute anti-Semitism. It defines anti-Semitism as discrimination, prejudice or violence against individual Jews or Jewish institutions, but eliminates any association between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism.
It is as if they are living in a time warp, damning old-time anti-Semitism while ignoring the most recent and virulent strain of anti-Semitism emanating mainly from the hard left. That virus has mutated from the politically incorrect prejudice against the Jewish religion into the new anti-Semitism, hatred of the Jewish nation. As one of the signatories said, “The Israeli government and its supporters have a keen interest in blurring the distinction between criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism to paint any substantive, harsh criticism of Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians as anti-Semitic.”

Photo credit: Stand with US

According to the JDA definition of anti-Semitism, “hatred of Israel” is not anti-Semitism. Boycotting, demonizing and sanctioning Israel is not anti-Semitism. Mind you, this is not just BDS of products from the West Bank, but boycotting all of Israel because it does not have a right to exist, as their Palestinian supporters allege. Sorry professors, this is anti-Semitism in its most blatant form. One doesn’t even need the IHRA definition to know it.

Harsh critics of Israel are alarmed that the IHRA definition is gaining more legitimacy, adding more national governments, colleges, organizations, and local and state governments to the list of supporters. And they worry for a good reason. IHRA explicitly targets all forms of anti-Semitism—from old-time right-wing hatred of Jews to today’s progressive anti-Semitism. Right-wing anti-Semitism gets all the notoriety because it is often manifested as local violence against Jewish people or their property. Left-wing anti-Semitism is ubiquitous on college campuses among academics and pro-Palestinian students, and of more significant consequence, advocating policies that threaten an entire country’s safety. And being Jewish does not mean that someone who supports reprehensible anti-Jewish policies gets a pass.

Signers of the JDA twist themselves in knots claiming that anti-Israel actions don’t have much to do with anti-Semitism. Yet many of them are invested in Palestinian “rights” and disregard Palestinian society’s pervasive advocacy of hatred and violence, from their mosques to media to schools and government, which is blatantly anti-Semitic. When these professors next go to Ramallah, they should notice that the word “Jew” and “Israeli” are interchangeable. Palestinian calls for two states—one binational and the other Arab—are just fine with them, knowing that this would mean Israel’s demographic destruction.

Many of these professors who rightly claim love for the freedom of speech are mute about today’s campus environment, where pro-Israel students are demonized, intimidated and restrained from their First Amendment rights by Palestinian supporters. Protecting students who disagree with your perspective used to be a pillar of academic freedom, but too many professors are activists first, not academics. Silence makes one complicit in stigmatizing Zionist students and pro-Israel professors. This is the very definition of illiberalism. Where are their voices for freedom of speech when their pro-Israel students and their speakers are screamed down in the name of racism, apartheid and colonialism? Is that not anti-Semitism?

One signer of the JDA claimed the IHRA had reached a “point where Palestinian students feel threatened on campus.” This is Orwellian. A primary reason for the need for the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism was the threats and intimidation to Jewish students on campus by Palestinians and their supporters. A 2015 Brandeis University poll of North American colleges’ Jewish students found “nearly three-quarters of the respondents reported having been exposed … during the past year to a least one anti-Semitic statement.” There is little evidence of any concerted intimidation against Palestinian students. Still, they and their progressive supporters are often the perpetrators of anti-Semitism against Jewish students who are pro-Israel.

True academic integrity should demand that many of these professors define themselves as pro-Palestinian or anti-Zionist and not hide behind the pro-peace, pro-Israel moniker. Who are some of the signatories? City University of New York professor and New York Times writer Peter Beinart wrote an article in July 2020 titled “I No Longer Believe in a Jewish State.” In response, the ADL’s deputy director said “such calls are themselves anti-Semitic, or at the very least, as in the case of Mr. Beinart, play into the hands of the anti-Semites.”

Another endorser of the JDA definition is the anti-Zionist Richard Falk. Former President Barack Obama’s representative to the Human Rights Council, Eileen Donahoe, called his comments on Israel “deeply offensive,” condemning them in the “strongest terms.” She charged that Falk had a “one-sided and politicized view of Israel’s situation and the Palestinian Territories.” No wonder he signed a definition of anti-Semitism that minimized equating anti-Zionism with Jew-hatred.

So kudos to those professors who fight against right-wing anti-Semitism; we should all join them. But shame on them for claiming that it’s not anti-Semitism to back the BDS movement, to deny the Jewish people a right to self-determination, to allow Israel to be judged by a double standard and to intimidate Jewish students on campus because they are pro-Israel.

The Challenges for American and Israeli Democracy

{Previously published by the JNS}

The 2020 presidential election brought America’s fractured society into focus, as America is deciding whether to discard or restore its core societal values for the 21st century. Whereas Israeli Jews, from right to left, are overwhelmingly patriotic, American patriotism and exceptionalism have seemingly been stigmatized by the progressive left. Israelis will soon be going back to the polls, and the outcome will reflect where their society is headed. They are two democracies that share many similarities but also marked differences.

Was the Nov. 3 presidential election a referendum on the soul of the nation—a choice between either the stability of evolutionary change that has served America well for the last 250 years or a call for a revolution against an irretrievably flawed democracy?

Americans ask themselves what we stand for, what American freedom these days, and how to deal with disaffected minority populations?

These are just some of the questions Americans and other liberal democracies, including Israel, face in the age of rising populism, identity politics, right-wing extremism and far-left radicalism.

Israelis struggle to find the right balance between being both Jewish and democratic in a hostile environment, where their Palestinian neighbors and much of their Arab citizenry’s ultimate goal is eradicating the Jewish nature of the state. Can Israeli Jewish particularism be reconciled with 35 percent of its population that are either non- or anti-Zionist—i.e., Palestinian citizens of Israel and the anti-Zionist factions of the ultra-Orthodox?

Americans ask themselves if their universalist exceptionalism is still a beacon of light for democratic aspirations of people worldwide, as it has been since the end of World War II, or a fading light in the 21st century. For some of America’s left that defines the origins of the United States as born in the sin of 1619, when the first slaves came to Jamestown, our nation’s soul is irredeemably corrupted.

Although Joe Biden has become President-elect, he was not given an overwhelming mandate for radical change. His victory primarily was a rejection of President Donald Trump’s ad hominem attacks, fabrications and handling of the coronavirus epidemic, despite his economic policy victories and voice against an entrenched government bureaucracy. The relatively small electoral success was not a mandate to destroy America through grievance-based identity politics, as the “blue wave” never materialized. The U.S. House of Representatives became “redder,” the Senate is likely to stay in Republican hands, and former President Barack Obama’s Attorney General Eric Holder failed in his attempt to turn even one state legislative body from red to blue.

Both Israel and the United States need vibrant democracies for their experiments in democratic governance to continue to succeed. America’s true compass is 1776 and the Republic’s universal ideals, even if it doesn’t always live up to them. Israel’s national compass began more than 3,000 years ago with modern Zionism taking root at the end of the 19th century and fully realized in 1948 with Israel’s birth.

For Israel to fulfill its national vision and express its democratic national soul, it must reconcile how to be fully Jewish while enabling its minority population not to feel disenfranchised. It is a Jewish ideal to welcome the stranger, but it’s hard in practice when the Arab minority continually accuses you of having stolen their land. Israeli reconciliation is magnitudes of order more difficult than fixing a divided America, as Palestinian citizens of Israel do not believe that Israel deserves to exist, while most American minorities want to be part of an improved America, not eliminate it.

Israel is challenged today by allegations of corruption against its prime minister and a dysfunctional parliamentary democratic system that relies on compromise in a toxic political environment, not so different from America’s political stalemate. The gridlock in Israel generated three inconclusive elections, with a fourth on the way. Benjamin Netanyahu has done so much for his country, moving it away from socialism, creating an environment for an innovative economy and normalizing relations with Arab neighbors. His legacy should be one of reconciliation, not division, even if it means stepping aside if that is the verdict of the Israeli electorate or judiciary. No individual is more significant than their nation, even if he or she seems indispensable. A peaceful transition of power was the great legacy of George Washington, who could have been king for life if he chose.

One idea for American democracy might be learned from Israel’s experience. In Israel, citizens from all walks of life are brought together, forming lifelong attachments through mandatory community or military service. In America, this could take the form of a year-long community project—bringing young people of different backgrounds together, working for a common good to feel part of a shared national project. In America, our national service model, whether mandatory or encouraged, could be created with bipartisan support, based on the words of John F. Kennedy, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for the country.”

Whether rich and poor, Israelis come together through their army service, which positively impacts their lives, and a society transformed for the better. Today, small numbers of Arab and ultra-Orthodox young people join the Israel Defense Forces to do public service. Still, the challenge is to create legislation for all 18-year-old Israelis to participate, bypassing the implacable ultra-Orthodox and Arab leadership who intimidate their young from joining in the national project. Quid pro quo, no national service means reduced government services and financial support—just a thought, as it is for Israelis to decide, not Americans.

Biden has an opportunity to bring the United States together or choose to listen to the rising voices of “Justice Democrats” who want vengeance, not reconciliation, and revolution, not evolution. American democracy needs moderation, respect and tolerance—things that are in short supply right now.

American and Israeli leaders come and go, but a nation’s democratic values are eternal.

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.”